The Gift of a Friend
By Joyce & Barry Vissell
Having a true friend (or several) in your life is a true gift. Having someone who you can call and say, “I am not doing well. I need your love,” is a huge blessing. It takes a lot of courage to feel your need for someone and be able to express it. It is such a gift in your life to have someone who will say, “Absolutely, I am here for you.”
I have saved a card from a good friend who passed from this world perhaps ten years ago. The card shows a beautiful garden and the entrance to the garden is a broken gate. The card says, “A good friend overlooks your broken-down gate and admires the flowers in your garden.” A true friend looks past your faults, and sees your beauty and believes in you.
My mother strongly believed in the power of friendship. When I was a young child, our family lived in the inner city of Buffalo and I had a lot of friends there. It was a poorer neighborhood and no one cared how you looked. We all just played.
In the third grade, we moved to a middle-class neighborhood and I felt so different from the other girls. I didn’t fit in with the other girls who talked about others and made fun of them. I was deep in my feelings, and very sensitive. I thought about God. No girl my age seemed like that. So I stayed by myself most of the time. This bothered my mother very much, as she lived her life on the premise that friends are the true treasures in life.
One day, she came into my room while I was deep in a fantasy play with my dolls and stuffed animals. She asked me why I didn’t ask friends over. I replied, “I am so different from everyone else, no one would want to be my friend.” She looked at me very seriously and said, “Joyce, to have a friend you have to be a friend. Look for someone who needs your love, and be thoughtful to them.”
There was a girl in my class named Carol, whose father was an undertaker and they lived upstairs from the funeral home. The other girls made fun of her as she seemed so serious. Taking my mother’s advice, I started sitting with her at lunch, and yes, she was rather serious and we had little to talk about. She told me that she always had to be quiet at home in case there was a funeral downstairs. She could never run wild or play music, and her father didn’t want her to laugh in case someone was downstairs crying over their dead relative.
I told my mother about Carol, and her immediate response was, “Invite her over this Saturday. I’ll make a special lunch for the two of you with cookies for dessert, and your father will play games with both of you. My father was very funny and knew how to entertain children with laughter and fun. So I did invite her over. Carol came to our home very shy and quiet, and she left laughing and making a lot of noise. She had such a great time that she begged to come again soon. It was so much fun to see her so happy at our home. Her mother called later and told my mother that her little girl didn’t have much fun in life. Her mother was so grateful and Carol came often to our home and I had a friend.
My mother loved to collect friends. She told me that she would rather collect friends than tea cups, books, clothes, shoes and other material things that people like to collect. To my mother, a friend was worth so much more. My mother lived to be 90 years old. Eventually all of her long-term friends died as well as her seven siblings who were also best friends. My mother did not let this stop her from friendship. She went right on making new friends in the way that she had taught me, “To have a friend is to be a friend.”
Three days before my mother died, she woke up in the morning with a lot of energy. She had been mostly sleeping before that. She looked at me and said, “I feel so good today. I would like to make a new friend! Please find me one.” How was I supposed to accomplish finding a new friend for my mother in just one day? I looked out the window and there was our daughter’s friend, who was visiting from Colorado, washing his car. I yelled down to him, “Can you please come up and visit with my mother?” He jumped at the chance! He ran up and sat with my mother for one hour. He loved to sing old musicals and so they both sang together.
After he left, I went back to my mother and she was beaming, “I really wanted to make a new friend before I died and now, I have. I feel very fulfilled.” I guess she felt her “collection” was complete. She showed me that it is never too late in life to make a new friend.
It takes time to be a good friend, and also a willingness to share deeply and be vulnerable together. Having a good friend is about being willing to listen to them. Even if you have heard the story before, your friend needs to be able to share it again. But having a good friend also means that your friend listens to you as well and asks questions about your life. A good friend does not do all of the talking without listening to you. If your “friend” is always doing all of the talking and does not seem interested in your life, then they are using you and are not really a good friend.
If you have a friend who listens to you and is interested in your life and who believes in you and who is supportive of your dreams, then indeed you have a great treasure. Treat that great treasure well.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books and a new free audio album of sacred songs and chants. Call 831-684-2130 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.