Usually I talk about everything with my friends—that’s what friends are for, right?
But not my hip-replacement surgery. I guess I thought downplaying the whole thing would make it less scary. I kept telling myself I’d be fine. I could handle it on my own.
Then my friend Mona and I were having one of our rambling conversations and I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out the swiftly approaching date of my surgery. “How are you getting to the hospital?” she asked.
“I’ll take the bus. It’s not far.”
“You are not going alone,” Mona said. “I’m coming with you and I’m going to call Jeanne to see if she can come too.” Jeanne, another dear friend.
The two of them picked me up at my apartment in a cab. They rode with me to the hospital and stayed. When I woke up in recovery, Mona and Jeanne were there.
They helped me get settled in my room and gave me gifts that made me laugh—hot-pink feathers for my hair and cards with whimsical promises (“This coupon entitles you to endless hours of your friends telling you how fabulous you are.”) They distracted me from my pain and chased away my fears.
My friends got me through something I thought I could endure on my own but now can’t imagine it. And it wasn’t the first time. Over the years, from my best friend in first grade, Karen Sue, to people I meet today, I’ve been blessed with many good friends. They’ve played a particularly important role in my life. Maybe because I’m single and don’t have kids. But really, for any of us, friendship is a godsend. Just think of all the ways our friends are with us.
In Hard Times
One of my favorite Bible verses is when Jesus tells us, “I will not leave you comfortless.” I’ve found that comfort often comes through my friends.
I love cats. I’ve always had a pair of them, watching the birds outside my living room window, purring me to sleep at night. My most recent twosome was Clarence and Sheila.
Clarence was an especially adept hunter. I’d see him swatting at flies or stalking bugs with the seriousness of a lion on the trail of its prey. I was devastated when he got cancer. Friends showered me with e-mails, candles, cat figurines. I put together a memorial, printing out their prayers. It helped make my loss easier to bear.
I didn’t have a long farewell with Sheila. I couldn’t bring myself to call anyone so I posted a message on Facebook. “The vet’s coming in an hour to euthanize my beloved kitty,” I wrote. “My heart is breaking.” Within minutes I started hearing from family, friends, people as far away as England and Iraq. They did not leave me comfortless.
In Good Times
I don’t remember telling Frances it was my birthday. I can’t figure out how she knew (unless it was through Facebook).
She invited me over for dinner with no mention of my birthday. I went to her home, surprised to see a little stack of packages wrapped in tissue paper. I wonder who else has a birthday? I thought.
“Those are for you, Mary Ann,” she said. I opened the gifts. A pin from our neighborhood flea market, a potholder, a book of poems—nothing extravagant but all things she knew I’d adore. I was so touched. Dinner was delicious. For dessert? A cupcake with one candle and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
Like the saying goes, a joy shared is a joy doubled.
In Ways You Never Expect
We’ve all had those moments. A friend asks you to do a favor, and the timing is terrible. A ride to the airport, say, when you’ve got a meeting all the way across town, or a last-minute plea for babysitting just when you’ve settled in for the night with a movie and takeout.
I like having houseguests, but when my childhood friend Stephanie called to say she had some doctors’ appointments in New York and hoped she could crash on my couch, I almost said no. I was up against deadlines at work and was worried about a health issue of my own. But how could I turn Stephanie down? “Sure,” I said, praying I wouldn’t be crabby while she was here.
You know what? Stephanie turned out to be the right guest at the right time. Talking to her every night was a wonderful way to unwind from the stress of my workday. And being able to help my friend gave me just the lift I needed.
With Just a Little Effort
Friendships need nurturing, and sometimes I get overwhelmed. I’ll forget a birthday. Or I’ll think I need to send a magnificent get-well bouquet. Then I’ll remember how much a simple “You’re in my thoughts” call or e-mail means to me.
Sam moved across the country almost 20 years ago. We talk on the phone a few times a year; each time I feel as close to her as ever. That’s the magic of a friendship that goes soul-deep.
It’s worth doing little things to keep friendships flourishing. Pick a date that reminds you of your friend, then make sure you get together even if it’s just for lunch.
I have two friends I see only once a year, but that spring weekend we spend together is sacrosanct. We pick a place to talk, read poetry, cook. That time is for us, enriching us at the deepest level.
Knowing my friends are praying for me helps more than anything.
Once, I mentioned to my former housemate Sharon I’d been waking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning. The next day Sharon called and asked how I’d slept. I was pleased to report I’d woken up but was able to go right back to sleep. “Was that about three A.M.?” she asked.
How did she know? “I was awake too,” she said, “praying for you. I think of it as my middle-of-the-night club. If I wake up and can’t get back to sleep, I pray for friends. Last night I thought of you.”
Then there are the times when friends pray with me. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in my office in midtown Manhattan. I heard sirens screaming and saw smoke billowing from the towers. I was stunned. Terrified. There were dozens of friends I wanted to talk to, but the phones were jammed.
Suddenly, the phone on my desk rang. It was my friend Kathleen, who’s in Texas. “Put your fingers on your wrist,” she said. “Feel your pulse and repeat with me, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” What I couldn’t do on my own, I could in prayer with a friend.
My friends bring me peace when I’m afraid, joy when I’m happy, up when I’m down. Scientists tell us friendships are crucial to well-being and longevity. What can’t be measured, however, is the quantity of God’s grace they provide.
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