Friends near and far
Where does a good friendship begin? Friendship begins in many ways and different circumstances: Finding a common bond with someone with whom we share experiences and interests. Discovering that rare person who has the same temperament and sense of humor as us. Meeting someone who thinks about things and life as we do. Loving someone who is our opposite, the yin to our yang, and complements us in surprising and delightful ways. Connecting on a deep level with another who sits quietly with us and shares our pain.
You might think back to the first meeting with someone who became a lifelong friend; a one-time friend to whom you become close during a time you needed them; or the on-again, off-again friend you talk to every year or so when you see them in a dream or flash of memory.
Friendships are marvelous, complex, heart-opening, challenging, egalitarian, respectful, life-affirming, sometimes fraught, and so much more; yet the heart of any true friendship, I believe, is the empathy of you and me, friend to friend, shared with one another. Empathy is the capacity for me to feel what you are feeling: Your joy is my joy; your loss, my loss; your success, my success; your struggle, my struggle.
Empathy is what we feel and think and say and do in our relationships with our friends — an interconnectedness that is not of self and other, not me as subject and you as an object, but of self and self, each with our own full humanity, agency, and equality.
While empathy is the basis of friendship, acknowledging that our empathetic nature is made of both heart and mind, nature and nurture, we must also accept that friendship is a lifelong practice of attention and nurturing. So we respond to friends’ needs with empathetic concern or compassion as they attend to our needs.
Friendship is fundamentally about showing up and making time, building a foundation of trust and reliability, telling the truth in love, providing an honest perspective when requested. And, when conflicts or misunderstandings arise, we offer a sincere apology and a promise to do better, seeking to repair the breach and find a mutual solution. In making amends we might just strengthen the relationship.
It’s not only what we do with and for our friends, but what we don’t do: A friend is someone who does not advise, fix, set us straight, or offer easy solutions. A friend brings, instead, their presence, their silence, their prayers, their empathy. Isn’t this what our friends need sometimes? Isn’t this what we often need?
Responding to a friend’s need for friendship and how a friend responds to ours brings immediate and lasting benefits to us, benefits of the body, mind, and spirit. So what if we expand the values and benefits of friendship beyond our immediate lives: I’m speaking both about our local communities and global community. I’m speaking about our neighbors, and I’m speaking about the larger humanity of this earth.
Isn’t it possible to share another person’s feelings, whether they live down the street or on the other side of the world? Can we not relate to their needs, struggles, sorrows, happiness, and joys?
Isn’t it just as possible to think about and understand another’s feelings, to take their perspective, even if they are strangers to us?
Isn’t it possible to feel compassion and find ways to alleviate another human’s suffering in whatever town, city, or nation they live?
And isn’t there some way we can show up and make time, build a foundation of trust and reliability, and tell the truth in love even from a distance?
I hope so. I pray so. Our warring world dearly needs friendship, neighborliness, a sense of hospitality, and a welcoming attitude toward all.
Photo: All Souls New London, Unitarian Universalist