You can find them online. You can find them offline. In the grocery store. Or living next door. In a singing club, or a quilting class, or a PTA meeting.
I’m talking about friends. The places they are found are as varied as the friends themselves, who differ in size, color, and adornment like sea shells on the beach. Different as they are, they all have qualities that make you cherish them and grow a little larger in their company.
Friends make you laugh. They may be great joke tellers, chances are they aren’t, but you both see the world through the same crazy pair of glasses. You both thought feng shui was a kind of sushi. And neither of you really get The Onion. You can admit you have liked Barry Manilow all along, and though they might not share your taste, they still like uncool you.
When success comes to you in small or large ways – you lost three pounds or your story won a writing contest—a friend cheers you on. And their good fortune doesn’t diminish yours. With a friend, joy is doubled, and troubles are halved.
They’ve seen you cry and put their arms around you while you dampened the shoulder of their brand new designer sweater. They don’t try to fix whatever is bringing on the water works, they don’t even have to understand why the bad thing is so bad. They are sad because you are. They don’t tell you to “get over it,” they just hang around until you feel better.
Griping! Venting! Sounding off! A friend will let you curse your boss, the government, the traffic. They will let you say the F word and make your ugliest face. And agree, agree, agree. The jerk! The collective stupidity! Insane drivers rule the roadways. They don’t try to get you to see reason.
You can tell a friend your dreams—a year in Paris or visit to the space station— and they won’t laugh at you. You can tell them your most unreasonable fears, and they will tell you theirs.
But sadly, sometimes friendships wither away. There is no animosity, you just grow in different directions. She wants to run for political office, you want to train to be a yoga instructor. Calls and lunches become less frequent and after awhile, yoga classes fill your days and you’ve made a host of new buds.
At sadder times, a friendship goes bad. You realize this person is trying to hold you back, to undermine your goals. They don’t have your best interests at heart. Worse still, they make you feel bad about yourself with barely concealed remarks, “Oh, you’ll probably never go back to school. It’s just a passing whim. You’d be older than all the others, anyway.” When going back for your master’s is a dream you have always had.
Or you may feel this person is manipulating you. She joins a committee at school and then somehow you find yourself going along because she “needs a friend” and you really, truly hate committee work.
Some friendships just never get off the ground because you discover early on you aren’t going to click. The person is a whiner and whining gets old fast. Or they are a hypochondriac and bring you down. Or they constantly reschedule, throwing your calendar in an uproar and you begin to know they can’t be counted on. Save yourself further pain, and don’t encourage more contact.
But more times than not when you find yourself sitting over coffee, hot chocolate, or a glass of wine, and three hours have passed laughing, confiding, and setting straight the world, and you still have more to say, you are with a friend. You may have to go home and do laundry, but the laughs keep you smiling while you fold towels, the confidences have lightened your secret burdens, and the discussion has broadened your understanding of the world and yourself.
After all, that’s what friends are for.
About the Author: Bernie Brown
I live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Better After 50, Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds. My story “The Same Old Casserole” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Modern Creative Life. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress. .