I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a friend. On the surface it seems the definition should be simple but on further pondering it is complicated. A dear friend and I were talking the other day about friends she had that seemed to expect certain things out of friendship. They had expectations that I feel are unrealistic and a little selfish. So, that begs the question- what do I expect out of a friend? What are my requirements? The most important characteristics for me are loyalty, unselfishness and an uplifting countenance. There are 3 quotes that I would like to use to elaborate my point:
Quote 1- Unselfishness and Devotion
The first is from what may be my favorite book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs or Linda Brent. It is an amazing narrative about a woman who never gives in to being a slave and faces huge challenges as a result. Finally she is able to smuggle herself and her children to the North and while there she meets a kind lady named Mrs. Bruce. Eventually Mrs. Bruce purchases Harriet’s freedom (a necessity that still irritates the relentlessly headstrong Harriet). Of Mrs. Bruce Harriet writes “Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used. Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless handling; but when I speak of Mrs. Bruce as my friend the word is sacred”.
While perhaps none of us are quite as indebted to our friends as Harriet is to Mrs. Bruce, can we still call our friendships sacred or are they common and easily tossed aside? I know I have many flaws as a woman but I do feel one of my strengths is that I am a good friend. I seem to invest more in friendships than others. There are many friendships that I consider sacred.
One example is my friend Emily Allivilar Whitman. I strongly believe the Lord wanted us to be friends. I went through a period during my 2nd year at BYU that was very difficult. In one year I lost 2 cousins and a grandfather, plus 9/11 and the anthrax scare happened. My grandfather and beloved cousin Lisa died within weeks of each other. Emily was an acquaintance from my ward that my sister had met the previous year in a Navoo BYU summer program. I did not know her very well but noticed she had been gone for a couple of weeks from the ward. Little did I know that she had also been through an even more personal tragedy in her family. Anyway, right before I left for my cousins funeral I went up to campus to go to class. I was heavy with sadness. On the south side of the Wilkinson center I noticed Emily and greeted her with a forlorn expression. Despite her greater cause for grief she stopped me and said “Are you Ok?”. Now, we did not know each other well at this point but for some reason everything just poured out. Then she told me about her loss and we grieved together. We even skipped classes and talked the afternoon away. She helped me pack to go to California for the funeral and I found out that her evil roommates were being very mean to her. Spur of the moment I said “Well, why do you live with us (meaning Megan and I)?” She agreed and then my cousin Julia (who had lost her sister Lisa) also moved in with us. So we had 4 girls in an apartment for a year who had all lost loved ones within a years time. It is one of the miracles of my life. We spent a great deal of time just hanging out as roommates- hanging out and healing. The Lord knew we needed that time. This is why Emily’s friendship is sacred to me. Even though I do not see her frequently, or even speak on the phone much, I know we were supposed to be friends at that crucial time. I feel that way about many of my friends. Their friendship is sacred to me.
Quote 2- Loyalty
My second quote is from another book that I love called the Delicacy and Strength of Lace by Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright. It is a sweet book about 2 poets who create a deep friendship through correspondence (they only meet twice). In her last letter Leslie tells Jim that “knowing and loving someone has no end, and that we are together always”. She goes on to say “Anyway, I treasure the words you write- your name most of all. But no matter if written words are seldom because we know, Jim, we know”. Do you have friends who’s name is a treasure to you? I do. I can think of a number of people that if I lost their friendship I would grieve heavily. These are not necessarily people I see often. For example, my best friend from college, Raelene Kochel Bradley, and I have a deep friendship. She is probably the friend that I have the most in common with as far as interests and personality go (I mean we were both female political philosophy majors- go figure!). I treasure her friendship even if it is in snippets while she lives in California. I know that she is the type of friend that if I got cancer or some horrible thing happened to me, she’d be the first one on the plane to help me- and vice-versa.
There are many other friends who’s names I treasure including my roommates of two years- Camille and Megan- and my best friend from high school Meredith Goodenough Tolley. Sarah Creer is also a treasured friend. My friend Miriam Harmer is another treasured friend from college and post-college years. I have many great friends from my mission including Julia Graves and Melissa Noyes who I treasure each day. I cannot overstate their importance in my life. There are too many to list them all. I am thankful for all of them. Please do not be offended if I did not list your name.
Quote 3- Good Humor and Inspiration.
My last quote is the famous scripture in the Bible, John 15:13. It says “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Now we rightly interpret this scripture as the Saviors love for each of us that He would lay down His life for us. However, there is a broader explanation as well. Do we give our life (our time, our talents, our substance) to our friends? I hope someone could say this of me. There are people I know that seem to expect friends to give, give, give. If they do not see this giving they are offended or feel the relationship isn’t worth preserving. To me, this is unrealistic (I would have no friends if I felt this way) and selfish. I have always looked at friendships as 90% giving and then enjoy the 10% I get in return (I do have to get at least a little in return!). Again, I know I have my flaws but I do think if I were to go now they could say at my funeral that I gave my life for my friends. I value them more than I can say.
So, this was a super long entry but let me just add that naturally my greatest friends are my family members. I am very grateful for all the time they have spent not only being my relative but becoming my friend as well. My mother, sisters Megan and Anna, are probably my 3 greatest friends in life. I also have a deep friendship with many cousins, aunts, uncles and my grandparents on both sides.
My friends have always been very different- running the gammit of personalities and interest. The one common factor in them all is they make me laugh and they inspire me to do better. There are so many examples of friends lifting me up in this way. Just the other day, I chatted with an hour with my friend Julia Graves. We had a great conversation and I felt uplifted and cheerful. It’s moments like these that I thank my Heavenly Father for great friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And thank you to all of you for being my friends and for loving me despite my many flaws. God bless!