Lately, my heart and head have been swimming in thoughts of friendship. I think it’s because I recently had the last birthday that begins with a 4. I am living the last year of my fifth decade. I have started saying goodbye to friends who no longer live and walk this earth. It makes you think. It makes you remember. It makes you evaluate.
And what I have been evaluating is friendship.
If you’re a grown up of a certain age, you probably remember the Peanuts cartoons by Charles Schulz. I always loved the Peanuts gang: droopy Charlie, thoughtful Linus, and sassy Sally were favorites. I loved Snoopy, but he puzzled me with his ambivalence toward Charlie.
But I never loved Lucy. Never did. I thought she was mean. I thought she had a big, rude mouth. And I hated that she always pulled the football out just as Charlie swung his leg at it. What kind of friend does that?
As you grow up, you find out just what kind of friend does that. When you’re in junior high and high school, you may be so desperate to be included, that you allow teasing at your own expense, or join in the laughter at someone else’s, just so you can belong. You allow the queen bee at the lunch table to proclaim your outfit out of style in front of the whole group, or maybe you snicker at the overweight kid right along with everyone else, even though you know it’s hurting their feelings.
“Mean Girl” behavior doesn’t stop when you throw that mortarboard in the air at graduation though. And it’s not limited to girls. It can continue right through college and into adulthood.
In adulthood, it plays out in a veiled comment about weight, or maybe resentment about someone else’s promotion or new car or nice vacation. It may be seen in catty comments over cocktails, or invitations denied.
One of the things I am discovering as I near my 50 th birthday is that my tolerance for unkindness and gossip has gotten significantly smaller. I am not world-weary, it’s not that. And I am not superior to others- most definitely not that. It’s more a realization that I want the things that influence my life and impact my spirit to be healing and nurturing. I want to live life as a daily celebration, even if it’s a small one. And to do that, I need to surround myself with people who also see the world as a beautiful place, who approach life through a filter of love, not envy. I want to spend time with people who count blessings, not who find reasons to complain.
This realization hit me hard a couple of weeks ago when we came back from vacation and heard about some pretty ugly things that had been said by friends. I really faced what I had suspected for a long time: I have to protect my heart and mind from pettiness,jealousy, and score-keeping (you know what I mean- counting who has the best wardrobe, fanciest vacation, best tv, or more dinner dates). When a friendship is one sided, when all conversations are from one point of view, when a friend no longer asks about you and interrupts your story to redirect the conversation back to him- or herself, it’s time to rethink the friendship.
Somehow, I don’t think I am the only one who struggles with these issues. This showed up in my Facebook feed this morning:
The world has always been full of toxic people. Social media has made it easier for them to spew. Sarcasm has become the language of the land, with celebrity watchers like Perez Hilton tearing people right up, and readers swallowing their blogs and tweets whole. But I prefer following Brene Brown. This lovely lady’s entire career is spent helping people feel empowered and loved. A research scientist at my alma mater, the University of Houston, her life’s work is teaching people authentic leadership skills and how to live wholeheartedly.
Of course, since I can’t have Brene’ (we’re on a first name basis, even though she doesn’t know it) over for tea and chat every week, I can hope to find friends like her. More importantly, I can strive to become a friend who empowers and encourages others.
Last week, I took a couple of days of vacation and traveled to DFW to spend time with some of my dearest college friends. We had not been together, all four of us at once, since December of 1985. We had gone through freshman orientation together, endured pledging together, sung together, gone to Dairy Queen together. Heidi and I were the quieter ones, she with a hip asymmetrical haircut and me with my first pair of Justin Ropers. Cheryl and Kayla were the attention getters, Kayla with her fantastic fashion sense and Cheryl with her amazing alto belt. Between us are six marriages and twelve children. As adults we have endured illness, job loss, and addiction. When we were undergrads we had disagreements about borrowed clothes, boyfriends, and social club obligations. And these three beautiful women reminded me what forgiveness and grace look like. They served as a reminder of what sorrow over hurt inflicted and the power of an apology can do to help a relationship heal. They are a reminder of what shared history can mean.
The universe has been kind enough to place people in my life now who, with nurturing and time, will be life long friends. Friends with whom sarcasm is not the default language and score-keeping is not the modus operandi. Friends who, knowing I have been lonely, have stopped by the office to say hi, or sent encouraging messages, or sent precious gifts. People who are proving how powerful it is to be “seen, heard, and valued.”
To be a good friend, parent, spouse, child, sister, niece, or coworker takes intention. It takes thoughfulness. It takes grace.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.8 Love never fails.” (I Corinthians Chapter 13)
Someone recently asked me if I’d rather be “loved or feared.” There’s no question there- I’d rather be loved. And I’d rather love. The world doesn’t need more fear, there’s plenty of that to go around.
So I am vowing to make a change. I can’t change a lot in this world, like policies about guns or hunger in third world countries or corrupt governments. But I can change me. I can keep eyes and ears open for opportunities to share grace. I can choose the energy I walk through my days with. I will probably never be the big life of the party. But hopefully I can begin to create and encourage connection.
Anyone up for a game of football? I promise to let you kick the ball. Hut, hut!