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Senior Perspective: Wit and wisdom of true friendship

As I picked a book up from the coffee table the other day, I noticed it was marked at the chapter entitled, “Friendship.” The book, given to me a several years ago by my dear friend and former partner, Rosemary, is “The Wit and Wisdom of Women,” but, as I share some of the quotations on friendship, I’m sure you will agree that they are equally applicable to male or female.

As I read, I came across quotations that reminded me of just how blessed I have been over the years with precious friends who have brought much joy into my life.

This first quotation, from Anne Rivers Siddons, expresses some of my own feelings.

“They are love, those rare, binding early friendships. Not everyone has them, and almost no one gets more than one. The others, the later ones, are not the same. These grow in a soil found only in the country of the young, and are possible only there, because their medium is unbroken time and proximity and discovery, and later there is not enough of any of those for total, ongoing immersions that these friendships are.”

It’s true, perhaps, that sometimes old friends are best friends, but I think I have been blessed more than most, if Siddons is right that almost no one gets more than one such friend.

I think immediately of three friends from my school days with whom there has been constant friendship for more than 60 years. We have been there for each other through death of a fiancé, deceit of a fiancé, marriage, divorces, deaths of spouses, wayward children, illness, plus many joyful times.

They know me and I know them as no friend found later in life can ever know. We grew up together and have traveled together, lived together, worked together and laughed together. Even though currently one is in southern California, one in Utah, one in Florida, and one in Oregon, if we had the opportunity to be together, the connection would still be almost the same.

I say “almost” because one, although currently able to recognize us, is a victim of Alzheimers Disease and unable to remember many things coherently. Fortunately her five children are close and keep her well cared for.

My mother suffered from the same ailment and it’s a bit scary for me when I seem to be so forgetful lately. However, my mother was afflicted when she was more than 10 years younger than I am now, so maybe I’ll take that last journey before it all completely goes. I do hope so. But enough of this kind of cogitation; I started out to note how fortunate we all are to have true friends in this life.

Not only do I not agree with Siddons that we get only one truly binding friendship in life, I also disagree somewhat with her thought that later friendships are not the same.

Later friendships are not the same because of shared youth that you cannot duplicate, but many later friendships are just as precious. I have found valued friends everywhere we have ever lived, and we have moved a lot. During our 20-plus years here in Brookings, I have made some friendships that are binding and comforting.

A number of other quotes from the friendship chapter also rang sympathetic bells with me. “Sometimes, with luck, we find the kind of true friend, male or female, that appears only two or three times in a lucky lifetime, one that will winter us and summer us, grieve, rejoice, and travel with us,” Barbara Holland.

Again, I think I must be the luckiest, or I prefer, most fortunate, person in the world because I can count many in that “true friend” category.

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then with the breath of kindness throw the rest away,” Dina Maria Mulock Craik.

Craik’s quotation reminds me of a weekend spent not long ago with friends in Laguna Beach, a friendship of couples devoted to each other, again for more than 50 years.

And that brings me to another quote, from Sarah Orne Jewett, “The growth of true friendship may be a lifelong affair.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s quote gives an inkling of what true friendship is, “One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life.”

I hope that I’m offering friendship to new friends today because of my gratitude for friends who have loved me over the years.

The book even has a quote from that great philosopher, Cher, “I can trust my friends … these people force me to examine myself, encourage me to grow.” While I must confess that I do not admire her lifestyle, I must admit that Cher’s quote comes close to words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, “Life Together.”

Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Heinrich Himmler April 9, 1945, because he dared to speak out against Hitler’s holocaust, indicated in his book about Christian community that if we really love someone we will be willing to alienate him/her. That is tough. But, perhaps we are not true friends if we are unwilling to speak up when we see a friend heading down a path that will bring harm to him/her or someone else.

I am thankful for true friends who are willing to warn me about my follies ... as long as they do it with gentleness and love, and it isn’t something I really want to do.


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