I recall, my mother, like mothers do, gave a lot of advice to her children. The one piece of advice I am getting more practiced at, is a simple one. When I left home she said, “You will have friends but take time to know who your well wishers are.” It takes a special skill to do this and acquiring it does not come easy to those who value honesty underpins all relationships, be it family, friendship or business. Business is easy to define. But how do we define family and friendship?
I recently noticed someone on social media had nearly two thousand friends. Why? Does a click of a button define friendship? Blood and longevity are unreliable measures. A more reliable one is a sense of emotional safety. I know I have been drawn to others because I have felt safe with them. Their age, physical appearance, poor health or contrariness, their standing in life, does not matter because I value their company. It is that simple for me. So my social network is a small one. It is the way I like it.
There is one friend who means a lot to me. We met in 1978 when she was my supervisor. She turns 81 this week. Her voice is exactly the same as it was when I first met her. She has been my confidante, my friend, my mother, my sister, my therapist, my noisiest cheerleader. She is my emotional touchstone. I have not seen her in years but we talk by phone and our friendship is nurtured by these moments. I still keep in touch with other friends I worked with in the late 1970s. We may not meet often because life gets in the way, but we share a warmth that can only be generated by common memories. We always wish well for each other. I am due to have dinner with two other friends this week. I haven’t seen them for a while. The anticipation floods me with warmth. I am looking forward to some good old fashioned catch up.
I have other people in my life who set off a silent alarm in me. I have no words for why this happens. The discomfort of wariness is a good indicator when I let my guard down. There have been times when I have shared my good news with them and have received nothing but a negative slant on every aspect of the event. During times of anxiety they have fostered more, through silence. I recall another friend who visited my first new home. It was during the early 1980s when single women found it difficult to get a home loan. I was thrilled with my achievement of being an owner of a custom built home. She walked around without a word and then stated the hook for the dishcloth was in the wrong place in the kitchen. I never invited her to my home again. As Maya Angelou said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
At times of unease I turn to another friend who calls it the way it is. He says what I need to say but find it difficult to articulate. He gives me the vocabulary for the feeling. It helps me process and sift the wheat from the chaff.
These are not all my friends. I do have more! But, for now, they help me tell my story.
So it is not surprising I am guided by the philosophy, life is always about quality not quantity. Friendship is as fragile, and as beautiful, as a leaf suspended in space. Whether or not someone enhances my experience of life, is an important determinant for me. It is the gate that allows it to open again or remain firmly closed. I have a simple explanation for this.
At my age, the journey has shortened. Nearly at summit, I travel light. For the rest of my journey, I am only willing to accept fellow travellers who encourage me to take the next step safely and steady me when it falters. It is how I define being emotionally safe with others. It is in the voice of those who gently but firmly guide you away from exploitative situations saying, “tomorrow will be a better day” and you believe them. Importantly, they believe it too.
They are special people. They do not define their relationship with you by being there prominently when you crumble. They define it by noticing the cracks and leading you away discreetly before the world implodes around you. They show they value you and your emotional safety.
They are not always family. Not always friends. They are what my mother would call, well-wishers.
Until next time,
a dawn bird