With a Little Help From My Friends*

* A word which here means: All the people I know and love!

As we close in on 11 continuous years of living overseas (plus an additional 3.5 years before that), and as we are looking at another two or so coming up, and as I’ve been running around in circles for at least seven hours a week, I’ve had plenty of impulse to reflect on what I’ve learned and who I’ve learned it from. Sure, I’ve learned some things myself, but the skills and perspectives that serve me best have been little gifts from the people who share their time with me – both family and friends. I suspect that in most cases the message resonated more with me than they ever would have suspected. Here’s a few highlights:


1. The more people you meet, the more people you can be friends with.

This is my articulation of a thought shared with me by my Aunt Carol. One year I was sitting with her as she was writing her Christmas Card list – over 400 handwritten cards! I was sad and lonely in the middle of a move from Heidelberg where I’d made a few friends, to Indiana where I pretty much knew no one. Amazed at the number of cards she was writing, I asked if they were official cards from her college (she was at the top of the administration here then, now she’s here – check it out!).

Aunt Carol: No, these are all my personal friends.

Me: ???!!!

Aunt Carol: Yes, I write a card to everyone I’ve ever known or been friends with.

Me: You have over 400 friends?!

Aunt Carol: Yes, because I’ve moved and worked in different places, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Me: <lightbulb turns on over head>

This one lightbulb may be responsible for the next 20 years of the story. I don’t know if I could have faced this lifestyle if I hadn’t completely committed to this sentiment. It doesn’t change the fact that every time we move, I spend weeks (months) whining about how I do not want to make new friends, I quite like the ones I have, thank you very much. However, now I am confident that I will make new friends  and that later I will not be able to imagine never having gotten to know them. 


2. It is not the grand gesture that friends require, but simple presence.

About 10 years ago, I had the chance to help out my friend Kelly who needed a ride from point A to point B in Germany. As we chatted, she shared a story with me about a friend she almost lost. The crux of the problem, it seems, was “Writing the Perfect Letter,” or in other words, those times where you don’t communicate with a friend because you want to take the time to write something beautiful and long and deep but you are taxi-driving mother of three, etc. The letter never gets written because there is no time to craft this masterpiece and time passes and people begin to feel neglected. Kelly is lucky enough to have a ballsy friend who called her on it, and I am lucky enough to be friends with Kelly and <lightbulb!>. Alas, I still suffer the same impulse but now I am more aware of it. And better yet, now I have Facebook (yes, I am an old lady, give me a break) which is a perfect platform for the little ways to show you are still interested, that you still care. And now I do things like make a standing (okay, I’m bad at this too) appointment to talk to my sister. It sometimes feels weird since speaking infrequently has created this subconscious belief that there should be some major news to share every time we talk, but every time there’s enough to say that the phone finally cuts us off. 


3. Friends happen – let them!

My friend Bobbi sits at the top of my list of People I Can’t Imagine Life Without. I am sure this is familiar territory for her. She has one billion-squillion friends by actual count and each and every one of us counts her among the dearest. She is a professional friend and it is with a cold shiver down my spine that I reflect that I almost missed the chance. (As if – she lets no one slip through her clutches!) 

It is a sad truth about me that if you tell me I have to like something, I run the other way, and before I met Bobbi everyone told me I. Was. Going. To. Love. Her. 

Nope. Not me, boy!

Then she appeared on the scene (back from summer leave) and I just walked right on by. Except she cornered me at Back to School Night and said, “Hey, aren’t we neighbors? Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. You should be the emergency contact in case my daughter needs to be picked up from school, and I’ll be yours.” Okay, sounds like a good idea, Person That I Don’t Know At All. 

Next, she sat across from me at a lunch where neither of us could decide on which sandwich to order. “Okay,” she stated, “here’s what we’re going to do. You get the Tuna Melt (or whatever) and I’ll get the French Dip (or whatever) and we’ll each eat half and then trade.” Okay, sounds like a good idea, Person That I Barely Know.

Next, I hurt myself rather badly while my husband was serving in Bosnia. Strangely (or not) we had the identical Saturn station-wagon with the important exception that hers was automatic and mine was manual. “So your left knees is hurt and you can’t work the clutch? Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Let’s trade cars until you are better.” Okay, sounds like a good idea, Person That I’m Getting Acquainted With.

The thing is, she was always right there and she always had the right plan. She’s the friend who’s brave and bold and outspoken when you are standing around a little timid and never-going-to-ask-for-help. In the beginning I had no idea of what to make of her – (so bold!) but she was so fun and so generous and so loyal that (and I remember the moment as <lightbulb!>) I finally realized, Oh, hey, she’s my friend!

And thank God for that or I would have missed out on some of the best parts of my life. 

And now I know that you don’t really make a friend. You live your life, you be true, you help and listen and stand by and  support, and you let yourself be open to all of that from someone else. And over time you look back and discover, Hey, that’s my friend! I’m glad I’m here and that I had the chance to share my life with them.