Wednesday night: I sat down this morning in a coffee shop to begin writing about friendship. Before my laptop was open, two young men who were obviously friends walked in and sat two tables away.
Perfect, I thought, real live research. Maybe I’ll even see if I can get a picture of them. But it didn’t quite work out that way.
They were so engrossed in catching up with each other that they were oblivious to anyone else in the little semi-outdoor-echo-y room, and they were loud. I considered leaving, but I was fascinated.
Correction. They were not loud, but one fellow was apparently funny and the other had a laugh that was less than beautiful in tone, though I’m sure it was pleasing to his friend.
Now here it is fifteen hours later, and witnessing those two was worth losing the writing time I had planned on having. Because seeing friends together in almost any context is a joy to behold, and we witness it far too seldom.
Close or many?
Unfortunately the number of people in America who say they have no “close friends” continues to grow, according to researchers. In 1990 it was 3% and now it is 12%. That is not a desirable or healthy trend.
Solid friendships, psychologists say, are good for us. People with friends are generally happier, have better luck (really), and have stronger immune systems. Naturally they also live longer.
So what is a friend? A little picture of a dog hung in the utility room of the home where I was raised. Next to the dog it said, “A friend is not a fellow who is taken in by sham, A friend is one who knows your faults and doesn’t give a damn.”
Not a bad definition. But according to my little dictionary, a friend is “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”
It is this bond of mutual affection we should explore. Where does that come from? Is it random, or is there a formula? Can we really (intentionally) “make” new friends?
Where did your friendships begin? Many probably took root in a shared environment. By far the most common of those is school.
In my home town there was only one high school, but there were three grade schools and two junior high schools. That meant that many kids in the town went to the same schools from 1st grade through 12th grade.
That is a lot of shared environment time. Same teachers, same classmates, same social events, and of course the same town.
Just going through all of that together creates a bond of mutual affection. Years later I was in the Army, another shared experience. I made some good friends there, partly because the experience was intense. I’m still not sure it rivaled junior high, but it was close.
The next step (or sometimes the first) is shared interests. I’ve made many friends through church, for instance, and also through golf. Some that go deeper have more than one shared interest: God and golf, music and books, food and food.
But all of that only creates the opportunity for a friendship to grow. Ultimately, for a real friendship to flourish, there has to be more.
You’ve Got A Friend In Me
Toy Story (the first movie in the Disney franchise) opens with Andy, a young boy, playing with his favorite toy, Woody. In the background of that sequence is Randy Newman’s original song, You’ve Got A Friend In Me.
The same song was used in Toy Story 2, 3, and 4. My own favorite version is Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett singing it together. I believe they really meant it.
Lots of people covered that song, and I mention that to indicate just how important friendship is to everyone.
One song you may not know but should was recorded by good friends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Written by Marla Cannon-Goodman and Ward Davis, it is Unfair Weather Friend. It’s a great title with equally great lyrics.
All of us need — and need to be — unfair weather friends.
There are a few things that people with close friends have in common. Perhaps the most challenging of those is vulnerability.
The more guarded you are, the harder it is to develop true friendships. Sharing what you have is another key ingredient.
Not long ago I invited my friend Perry to play golf, and we had a little lunch first. My friend Tom was there and came over to meet Perry. When he did, he grabbed a couple of potato chips off my plate and ate them.
That seemed normal to me, but later Perry said, “Tom is certainly comfortable with you.” It was the chip stealing that made him say that, and it hadn’t even occurred to me. Who can eat off of your plate? Whose plate can you raid?
Be available, and listen
An unlikely friendship with those qualities developed between two people who met by being pen pals. It began with the man, Lamar Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for murder. He wrote a letter to a church, hoping someone there would correspond with him.
Ginny Schrappen was asked by a deacon at the church if she would do that. She took up her pen and they started a more than 20 year correspondence.
It is an amazing story of friendship that has an even happier ending. She knew right away that he was innocent, and in fact he was. Her friendship, he says, helped get him through almost 30 years in prison.
You can read more and watch them meet in person at this link.
Let me encourage you to be a friend. It is one of the most rewarding ways you can do good, and the good it will do for you is priceless.