Friendship is such a precious gift. It takes time and intention. And time is something we seem to have so little of these days. We are caught in the constant rat race and don’t have time to just sit and ponder or reflect on our days. But as I recently told my five year old daughter, friendship requires thinking about the person on the other end, even when you are apart.
I’ve received the blessing of making a couple of new friends over the last year. I had been lonely during the COVID pandemic, especially since I have been away from work, so I decided to allocate some time to cultivating some new friendships. The first was with an old acquaintance. She had been one of the women in my bible study social justice group I formed for a year before the COVID outbreak. She keeps very busy, so we don’t get to meet often. She is currently going to school in her 40’s for a second degree: a program in art composition. Because she is so busy, we only meet every few months for lunch at a local cafe. But our conversations are so rich. She suffers from Bipolar Disorder, just like me. And she has a strong spiritual side, as I do.
This friend has taught me that all that is good in life comes from planting and then cultivating metaphorical seeds. The more seeds we sow and tend to–investing in friendships, our education, our careers, and family–the more these things bear fruit. But we have so many things competing for our time and intention, especially with modern media. I took a break from watching the news for two years, more or less. I limited my computer time. I spent the extra time reading and writing and trying to cultivate my own interests and find people with similar interests. I started finding that I had a lot more time to invest in new (and old) friendships. I had time to get outside and do some good yard work therapy around my wife’s house. We are still married for insurance and income purposes, but we are separated. Still, even my relationship with my wife improved quite a bit.
Another friend I made was a thirty-something guy who lives upstairs from me in my apartment building. We both have dogs and they get along well so we started meeting at the dog park. Talking to him, I realized very quickly that he was really intelligent and interesting. He is a PhD student in ancient Greek archeology. He tells me all about the artifacts he has dug up and studied and what they tell him about life in times past. Many of these relics tell stories of loss and divorce, intrigue and relationships. It seems that though life has changed a great deal since then, the basic building blocks of life are still the same: family, friends, relations with neighbors, and time to think and consider our days. To these blocks, many people add time with the God of their understanding.
The Christian writer, C.S. Lewis sums up true friendship up well: “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘You too? I thought I was the only one.” I want to cultivate relationships in which a moment like that can fit into our exchange. So that we can become true friends.
This weekend I went to my local church for the sermon. The pastor came out and said something very interesting. She cited one of the “most important miracles of the whole New Testament that few people ever talk about.” The miracle, she said, was that Jesus had twelve or more close friends in his thirties. Yes, this was kind of tongue-in-cheek. But she went on to talk the whole sermon on the importance of friendship: true friendship. Not shallow, pat-answer friendship. It is really hard, as one gets older and further from one’s teen and twenty-something years, to make and maintain friendships. The best way I know of doing so is to cultivate interests during my alone time and then get involved with organizations that align with those interests. Surrounding yourself with people who have similar interests provides a field ripe for moments such as those in the C.S. Lewis quote. A field ripe with possible connection.
As I mentioned, one of the things I spend a lot of time doing is taking care of my dog. She is a 65 pound german shepherd mix that I got from a local rescue six years ago. And she is so in tune with my moods and my emotions that I regularly call her my “unofficial therapy dog”. She is a big part of my life. Often I set up walks with my sister and neighbor with their dogs. It is as good for me to interact with my friends on these walks as it is for the dogs. And I consider my sister a friend too. We walk our dogs almost daily. So, I decided to get involved in my local Humane Society. I volunteered for their training and have since volunteered a few hours doing chores around the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The first time I volunteered, I scheduled a block of laundry time. They have it all down to a science there and make it easy to get in and get to work. The first time I volunteered, the woman who had also volunteered for laundry duty turned out to be a database designer. That was right up my alley. We got to talking a little shop and also talked about our dogs and cats and our experiences at the Humane Society. If I get in a few more hours of volunteer time I graduate to “Paw II” which opens up a lot more opportunities such as walking the dogs and being the face of the Humane Society at events. Huron Valley Humane Society runs on volunteerism like a well-oiled machine. There are lots of opportunities to connect with new people.
It is really tough to make new friends in the post-covid world. It seems that so many people I know are just surviving, and this includes me. And many people cling dearly onto old relationships but hesitate to venture into new ones. Many people just do not have the time or mental energy for new relationships. But I think this is starting to change recently. I think, as we emerge from the pandemic, people are putting a higher value on relationships. I see it all over. I see it in the people I meet. I see it in places like churches and volunteer organizations reaching out and trying to provide a space for connection. I hope these organizations continue to reach out and try to connect people. And I will continue to reach out and try to connect with the people around me. As my friend, Steph, said to me, “It’s all about planting and tending lots of seeds”. Perhaps that is why biblical wisdom says we are made in God’s image and paints God as a loving gardener, tending to his wonderful Creation and tending to us. I am going to keep reaching out. And as I do, though I am a hopeless introvert, I am learning how to shrug off the seeds that don’t bear fruit and persist in the relationships that do. Perhaps I will grow for myself a little circle of friends again after this long dry spell we have been in together.
William lives in mid-Michigan. He has a five-year-old daughter. He has written poetry for 28 years, wrote for a spiritual blog for five years, and writes for various blogs and newsletters.