Comedian Lily Tomlin said, "Remember we are all in this alone," but she was wrong. We are not in this alone; we are not in life alone. If we're lucky we have friends to help and support us as we face the ups and downs, the joys and sadness of life.
The most important decisions we make in life are the choices of our friends. As the priest psychiatrist Henri Nouwen tells us, "It is not without reason that parents are very concerned about who their children bring home as playmates, friends, or lovers.They know that much of their children's happiness will depend on those they choose to be close to."
Real friends, however, are not as numerous as they seem. Sister Joan Chittister tells us, "Count your friends one at a time. When the number gets past five, count again. You've gone too high."
Friends are not acquaintances, associates, co-workers or colleagues. We might occasionally find a friend among them, but friends are something different. With friends we are completely at ease. Instinctively we can bare our souls to them. Friends increase every joy and make every sorrow bearable. They are the ones we go to for advice. They are whom we want to be with. They are extensions of ourselves.
That's why Facebook friends aren't friends at all. Someone told me recently about her son in a distant city who had over 200 "friends" on Facebook. He needed someone to drive him to the hospital for surgery. Not one of those Facebook "friends" could help him. He was forced to take a taxi.
Friendship does not mean that friends have to agree on everything. Real friends are able to recognize honest differences even on important issues but love their friends anyway. Friends, moreover, will not be friends for very long, if they can't forgive each other's failings. For our friends, like us, are imperfect and flawed. We must forgive them for being human.
We have to work on friendship. Friendships will die if we don't. Regular phone calls are helpful. Meetings for coffee, lunch and conversation are better. One way or the other though, we must keep our friendships in repair.
Some will say, I don't have any friends. How can I make some? On this Dale Carnegie has excellent advice. "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you."
Friends are good listeners. They are not judgmental. They are not quick with advice. Dinah Craik, the 19th Century English novelist in the poetic language of her day says it well. "Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort, of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
Friends, moreover, can influence each other. We absorb the good qualities of our friends just by being with them. They can make us stronger, calmer, better human beings. On the other hand, if persons make us fearful, anxious and agitated, they are not friends at all. They are just negative people and we should avoid them.
Friends are precious gifts. We should carefully cultivate and treasure them. They heighten life's joys and lessen its sorrows.
Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/