I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship of late. This includes friends who are currently in my life, friends who once were in my life at some point in the past, and friends I don’t see or hear from very often, but they’re definitely there in my life all the same. There are other categories of friendship, too, which can overlap with and/or morph into the above, of course—work friends, family friends, new friends, etc. Let me just say right off the bat, when it comes to friends, of all shapes and stripes, I am an extremely fortunate person, because I have many, and they are the best people. Furthermore, I consider several family members my closest friends, and those relationships are the most special to me. We’ve seen each other at our very best, as well as at our very worst, and we somehow manage to stick by one another through it all. It truly is amazing when I stop to think about it. Then there are friends who are very much like family to me—we’ve been through many years of knowing one another, shared experiences, laughed together, supported each other during rough times, and even let the other see the not so picture-perfect parts of our lives. I cherish these friends like extended family members, and it seems that it really doesn’t matter how often we see or talk to one another; the friendship weathers it all. With these particular friends, several years can, and often do, go by between our visits. However, when we do have the chance to finally see each other, we make the very most of our time together. Along with family, these are friends I’ve come to lean on, and vice versa. It’s an extremely good feeling to know you have a support system like that.
There are friends I’ve made strictly online or by means of other long-distance communication that I have never even met in person, but we keep on writing and talking, and there is a personal connection that keeps us friends. Maybe it’s writing, music, mutual friends, the shared human experience, or a combination of these, but it’s strong enough to maintain the friendship over many miles, many years and through the screen of a computer. That’s pretty amazing, as well.
If friendship can come and go, or stick around for a lifetime, and if it can happen overnight, or grow and strengthen gradually over the course of many years, how do we truly know when someone is friend material? What is friendship, when all is said and done? Perhaps it’s when somebody sticks with you, even though you may not be the best company at a given time, but they see something worthwhile in you, and are willing to put up with your “crummy self” (as the rockabilly musician Chris Isaak once put it while briefly discussing new relationships between songs during a live performance I attended). These rare individuals know that putting up with your “crummy self” is sure to pay off when the sunshine peeks its head out and the good times are rolling once again. Also, it is my opinion that the “crummy self” scenario is a two-way street—i.e., both friends have to be able to weather this storm for any hope of a long-lasting, meaningful friendship to take root. And everyone has a “crummy self” (even Chris Isaak, apparently). Furthermore, friends lift you up when you’ve taken refuge in the doldrums, or give you a reason to give things another shot. If at first you don’t succeed, and you really don’t feel like trying again, try again for your friend, who believes in you. How many times has a friend kept you going when you felt like throwing in the towel? Or let you see what a great person you really are, when all you can see are the mistakes and flaws? There really is no price or predetermined time limit you can put on friendship—if it’s real, we know it at our innermost core, because we can relax, be ourselves and not give it a second thought. And if the friendship has run its course, we come to know that in our innermost core, too.
I think the character Wind in His Hair (played by Rodney A. Grant) from the movie Dances With Wolves summed it up best at the end of the movie, in his farewell ode to the title character (played by Kevin Costner): “Dances with Wolves. I am Wind in His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?”
Pictured above: “The best mirror is an old friend” quote drawn in watercolor and india ink (© 2015 by Pam Winters); the quote is attributed to poet and priest George Herbert