On Sunday, I returned home from a 60 mile bike ride, tired, but pleased with the beginning of my birthday week. Wedged between the screen and wood doors at the side of my house, was what could only be a present! I could not imagine who had left it. It was a lovely surprise when I discovered it came from friends I would never have guessed. The card brought tears to my eyes which spilled over when I unwrapped the present – a lovely, decorative plate with these words:
“We all let people into our lives, but you will find that really good friends let you into your own.”
These words are among the most true I’ve heard. My life, and the people who have helped me to live in it, are proof. So today’s final 50 About 50 list of ten: the friends who have brought me joy, helped to mold me as a person, shown me through their examples what it means to be generous and kind.
1. First Friends
My parents, Jack and Shirley, believe in being parents, not friends, to their children. Among the milk, manners, and morals they fed me as a child were nuggets that continue to inform my daily choices. They will always be my parents, but they are, finally, also the friends in whom I see myself.
2. Siblings who are Friends
Growing up, my five siblings were my best friends and my arch enemies. No one comes out of a large family unscathed! We fought. We hid things from each other in an attempt to have some measure of privacy in a household of eight people and assorted strange pets. We relied on each other through multiple moves to new neighborhoods and towns. And over the years, these people became my hoarcruxes (to borrow from Harry Potter). Pieces of me reside within them, and would be lost without them.
3. Friends who are siblings
While I would never trade my family of origin for another, I have been blessed to be adopted into a couple of special families. First came deep friendships that have the feel of sibling relationships, then their generous families took me in as well (and I’m not just talking about a Scheckel Brothers group hug, though that was pretty great, too!). These friends make sure that I have family to spend holidays with, to celebrate life’s joys and mourn life’s losses with, to feel connected with as a singleton in a family-oriented city. The Smiths/Kohls and the Dennis’ – they are my family as surely as the Hansons/Finnegans/Browns.
4. Teacher Friends
Some people are put in our lives to teach us how to be human, how to be good, how to push ourselves forward in compassion and truth. In my life, a few of these friends have actually been teachers, while a score of others have, in fact, been students! Some friends have simply demonstrated ways of thinking and being that I strive to emulate. Its been said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The teachers almost invariably show up before this student is ready – hopefully, I am learning to be open and fertile ground. I know I have already learned from these teachers to be a better me.
5. Friends and Colleagues
I came to my current university for a two-year grant-funded position. In 1994. What kept me here, when a decision-point came in 1996, was the strength of relationships with colleagues who share my vocation and my values. My sense of humor, and my vision for what we hope to accomplish. At each decision-point along the way, my colleagues and the genuine sense of respect and love between us is what has kept me rooted to this spot.
6. Children Friends
“Are you my aunt?” You might be surprised how often I’ve been asked this question by small children to whom I am, in fact, unrelated. I LOVE this question! I would have liked to have children of my own, but since I did not, I feel truly blessed to have been so connected to children, be they my actual nephews and nieces or the other wonderful children who aslo bring joy and laughter to my life.
7. Fleeting Friends
We have all had the experience of friends who are part of our lives for varying periods of time, then slip away. The fact that they are not actively part of our days forever does not mean they have not been important, or have not been loved. In fact, it is to some of these individuals that I owe great debts of gratitude for the gifts they’ve brought to me, the lessons I’ve learned from them. I will always think fondly of them, always be glad for good things to enter their lives, as they entered mine.
8. Beloved Friends
I do not fall in love easily or often. This is, therefore, a very small (though important) category. I know people who have begun their relationships with significant others as dating relationships. Not me. Significant feelings have only ever been the outgrowth of what have been significant friendships first. Amazingly, each of these individuals can currently be called, “Friend”, and each may actually read this post. You know who you are. All I can say is this: you have taken up residence in my heart, and there you will always have a home.
9. Friends who “let you into your own life”
Unlike the previous category, this group is big, and has grown exponentially the past couple of years. Lots of self-help and personal growth books will tell you to surround yourself with people who bring forth your best, people who challenge you to be more than you currently are. I can’t say I followed this advice, because I can’t say that the fact I’m surrounded by incredible people was something I did. Instead, each of these precious friends arrived in my life as a gift. They have surrounded me with love, support, generosity and trust. They have tested me, challenged me, called me on my crap. They have knocked at my door when I was hiding out, they have braved snarky comments when they got too close to some truth I was denying. Most importantly, they have loved me. At my best AND at my worst.
10. The friend who is my self
Strange to be so far into one’s life before deciding to befriend, rather than sabotage, oneself. Now that I’m here, its pretty clear that this is how it is supposed to work.
You may wonder why I didn’t mention very many names as I described my list of friends. Most practically, I was afraid of leaving people out. More importantly, most of the people in my life who would make this list cross over from one type of friend to another as circumstances and need require – the categories are not mutually exclusive. The name calling (name dropping? naming?) would have gotten repetitive. Rest assured, though: from my friend Carol, who has been loyal and steadfast since fifth grade, to little Femto Finnegan, who has yet to be born, the names and faces of many loved ones have been before me as I type this entry. Standing on the 50 year line, looking back at the past, forward at the future, I see one thread inextricably connecting the two – the thread of relationship. Friends, you are with me now, and will be as we move forward on this crazy trip of life. For that, I am humbly grateful.