April 23

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Ties That Bind in Friendship

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The introvert in me isn’t likely to have a large circle of friends. While I do have a significant network of peers, colleagues and acquaintances, friendship as a general rule is tricky.

So much of friendship building and nurturing is lost because of the way we communicate and connect with people. I’m talking about the kind of effort that requires a person to reach out and make a tangible contribution to someone else’s life and not so much, the Facebook likes and comments or the Twitter re-tweets.

Not everyone gets the “friend” access into my life, which leaves my circle of trusted peers rather small. But I often find myself  grateful for that small but significant circle of people who  have made the effort (for me) both in good and bad times.

I just finished a major a fundraiser for work this past Wednesday. The day before the event, we hit a major glitch which pushed our logistics and prep timeline further back than anticipated. Simply stated, it wasn’t a good day, but we made it work. Later that evening, I had a text from a good friend, who had idea what was going on, that simply said “You’re Awesome.” I responded saying “Why? What did I do?” (I was genuinely confused.) Her response was simply, “I figured someone needs to say you’re awesome because I know you’re dealing with pre-event stupidity.” Tangible and appreciated.

I’m a big fan of Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. Some people read horoscopes, I like reading about problems people are facing and what Hax recommends for advice. I don’t always agree with her, but she’s generally on point. One of her readers was concerned about a family member who might be in an abusive relationship but wasn’t sure how to approach the conversation with the individual in question. I liked her advice:

One thing to keep in mind: People like to know that you are there for them and won’t judge. I’ve heard from many people over the years who have gotten out of abusive relationships that they were saved by a quick, private remark along the lines of, “When you need a place to go, call me, day or night. No questions asked.”

The type of unconditional friendship, that allows you a safe place to rest and recuperate while life is spinning out of control is incredibly significant. Absolutely priceless.

Obviously, if you’ve committed murder (or actions of similar gravity,) even the strongest ties of friendship would be tested in those conditions. I am referring more to situations of grief, loss, death, divorce, unemployment, loneliness, abuse and major relationship issues and such, where the right level of outreach and effort makes a real difference.

A friend of mine just found out that her lymphoma has returned for the third time in five years. This is after she had just gone through a bone marrow transplant (her own) a few months ago after her second relapse. As a radiologist herself, she’s well aware of her limited medical options, which are somewhat limited at this time. The short version of the story is that she needs to get into a clinical trial that will accept her so that she can have the following treatment: Chimeric Antigen Receptor Therapy (CAR-T).

We rally when friends struggling with major diseases. Here’s the gist: Her friends and colleagues called around the country for a possible open clinical trial and they did find one. Granted, it took hours of research on the Internet, some old-fashioned calling, but when times are tough, friends pull together for a common cause. Whether she’ll be accepted into the trail is another thing all together. But for now, she’s got an appointment at Ohio State on Monday. I call this friendship in action.

By the way, if anyone is interested in being a bone marrow donor, you can sign-up at “Be The Match.” You’ll be sent a home swab kit and it’s an easy process (no pain, no blood.)

About six years ago, my best friend friend in Malaysia lost her newborn, ten days after birth. No explanation of why and how, except that he had a mild case of jaundice and was admitted to the hospital, but at some point during the stay, he passed away due to complications. I can’t in any shape or form understand (let alone fathom) what she and her husband went through. Her husband, took care of logistics and flew her (and him) to his family home in Denmark to get away and recuperate (for the lack of a better word) somewhat. But I remember the frantic, painful and agonizing calls (and emails) when her grief was simply unbearable. Sometimes, friendship means taking difficult phone calls and saying nothing or very little.

I won’t lie. I dreaded those calls, only because I had no idea what to say or do for her. But when all else fails, not avoiding those tough conversations will make a difference.

So if nothing else, making the effort to continue building and nurturing those important friendships may include:

  • Bringing over homemade stew or soup when a friend is sick.
  • Offering to babysit the kids when a friend is struggling with significant life’s problems, which we know are often and many for some.
  • Do pray when you say “I’ll keep you in prayer.”
  • We know that life happens and people get busy. But if you haven’t heard from an old friend in a while, check-in with them. With so many communication methods today, we don’t have much of an excuse not stay connected.
  • Grabbing coffee and chatting over muffins, oranges and chocolate just to catch up.
  • Texting a friend at 6 p.m. to make sure she’s left the office since she’s been working late for weeks.
  • Invite your friend who are not in a relationship (at the moment) to the movies with your significant other because sometimes that single friend could use an evening out. Believe it or not, they appreciate the gesture more than you think.
  • Send a birthday card with a short note. It’s a dying art, but it’s nice to get a card in the mail from a friend.
  • Don’t share privileged information with just anyone. If you’re not sure, ask.
  • Some people write letters. It works for some, and not others.

Effort goes both ways. So certainly, there’s no use in investing in friendships that are on-sided (in my opinion.)

But like roses, hydrangeas and other difficult growing perennials, the friendships you consider significant are certainly worth the investment.

I think there’s a poem out there about roses and friendships.