Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gratitude for Friendship

Life is Good: Real Friendships Endure

Month of Gratitude, Day 26

For the past four years, one of my dearest friends has been sailing around the world with her husband and two boys. It sounds amazing, right? And it was. They sampled special places and met interesting people. They made memories that all four of them will carry in their hearts and minds forever. For. Ever. But she will be the first to tell you that it wasn't glamorous. It wasn't neat and tidy. It was hard.work. I mean, hard. work.

Besides the work that it takes to keep a boat working and sailing, throw in days--sometimes weeks--at a time without internet (gasp!) which meant no email (what!?!) and no...wait for it...facebook (unfathomable!). And of course, since they were away from the U.S., phone calls were an infrequent luxury. So she and I went quite some time without speaking. I mean, hearing each other's voices. We were able to keep in touch by email and facebook messaging, which often felt like a (faceless) conversation when we caught each other online at the same time---a real treat.  And I was so grateful for those short minutes of connection. Our correspondence was bite-sized. We kept things concise, with the important stuff being upfront. We never "buried the lead".

So when she announced that they had begun their way back home to the U.S., I began to wonder how many "catch up calls" it would take us to...well, catch up! I was so excited to hear her retell their trip--year by year? place by place? How had living on a boat changed her boys? How did the trip affect her marriage? Or did it? What was the single most important moment of the trip? Or was there one? And so many more questions. I had received snipits of answers to these questions already, but surely there was so much more to tell.

I looked back on my last four years and pondered how full they had been. When she left, I had a 1 1/2 year old. Now, I had a five and two-year old. Many ups, a few downs. My family, my life had changed by leaps and bounds. I had gone here and there. I had done this and that. While mine might not have felt as exciting, I, too, had many stories to share.

I was excited (and grateful) to hear that Pip, as I lovingly refer to her, and her family had arrived safely on the East Coast (and relieved--- in all honesty, was a dangerous trip!). And I was excitedly (but patiently) awaiting our first phone call. Gosh, how would we begin this first "catch up call"?

Well, as it turns out, we started in the middle.

A couple of days after their arrival, Pip called me. There was no chit chat or small talk. There was no "how are you?" or "what are you up to today?" She needed to talk about something, so she called and when I answered hello, she dove right in.

So we talked and we gasped and we laughed. And we did all of those things again. And again. And at the end of our conversation, she apologized for just jumping right into a conversation instead of "catching up" first. But there was no need for an apology. And she knew that, too. I was honored that she had thought of me to call. It seems to me that "starting in the middle" is one of the most honest signs of a true friendship that you can find. When you have a friend that you can call at all hours of the day or night, a friend that you know will drop everything for you, a friend who will try to understand when there is no way anyone could understand, a friend with whom you can "start in the middle"...you must cherish that.

I've always been naive about people. I'm idealistic. I'm an open book. And I walk around with my heart wide-open, too. So when I meet someone and have a great conversation, discover similar interests, I consider them a friend. And I assume that we'll both put something into the friendship and we will be friends for a lifetime. I know, it sounds like a four-year old's view of friendship, doesn't it? That's what I thought as I typed that. I guess it is just the result of my personality. Or the place from which I begin. I don't just want to like everyone. I want to love everyone. There are worse personality flaws, right? (And believe me, I have those, too!)

In the past few years, I have discovered firsthand that not everyone else wants to like and love everyone. I have discovered that some "friends" would rather tear you down in order to build themselves up. These women feel the need to smear a reputation in order to create one of their own. Or they are eager and willing to believe what someone else makes up rather than trust their own experience of you. It's sad. To think that there are adults out there who still have the insecurity and competitive nature that you expect of someone in middle school, someone who hasn't matured and evolved yet. Or they use your "friendship" to take, take, take. And then they move on to the next person that they can take from. Or maybe they delight in casting (even when inaccurate or unfounded) judgements over you because it makes them feel better about their own faults and inadequacies or life, in general. This is not to say that I am not a good judge of character. I think I am and I have good instincts about people. However, I have this innate need to give people "one more chance" which often turns into one more chance times fifty. And I think really good people can make really bad choices. It is a slippery slope. Words come out quickly and there is no taking them back. When you put them out into the world, you have no control over what others will do with them. So you better be sure of every syllable.

Those little tidbits have kept my mind and heart at work way more than I should have let them. But I am a questioner. And a ponderer. I have a desperate need to understand before I can accept. And to be honest, I often let my "understanding" excuse people (which I know is wrong). But I've tried to use this all to let lessons be learned. To better define my own standards. To strengthen the person who I am and want to be. I think I've finally accepted that I need to keep a safe distance from people like that. It's a difficult task for me, though. Pulling back, only sharing a piece of myself, only dipping one toe in...it's just not me. And being true to myself is really important to me. For my own happiness. And as an example to my children. But I still find hope in the fact that while we do not all come from the same starting point, if willing, we all can end up at the same end place of love. I warned you...I'm a dreamer, an idealist, a sappy, sticky, hopeful! I'm also a Christian. And my faith teaches me that we are all flawed and we all deserve forgiveness as we have all received forgiveness from God.

I've decided to take my energy away from the people who baffle me and towards the dear friends who lift me up. I am grateful for so many great girlfriends. And I am so fortunate to have several long-standing, lasting, supportive friends. They are a mixture of personalities. Some live in MN, some live in different cities and they all have lots of different interests. Some are sassy and some are sweet. Some can finish my sentences and some think I am completely nutty! But the thing they have in common is full hearts. They are "at the drop of a hat" kind of girls. They are hug and cheer and squeal kind of souls. They are laugh with you, join right in, talk when you need it and listen when you need it kind of wonders. They are treasures. Absolute treasures.

So today, I am grateful for long-lasting friendships, like the one I share with my friend, Pip. For friendships that endure--the ones that endure time, trials, bad hairstyles, miles of separation, growing pains, husbands, kids, and more. For friendships that come from the starting place of love. For friends who don't compare, but celebrate. For friends who feel like family. And for friendships that are so close, so natural, so intuitive, that you can "start in the middle".

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