What would life be like without friends? Not too good, at best. Even some of our relatives wind up also being our friends. Although, I don’t have any brothers or sisters, I have had a lot of cousins, even second and third ones, who have been kind of like siblings to me; and some of them were among my closest friends. I also have some non-relatives who have been my most beloved and cherished friends for many decades; a few for over half a century. Over the years we’ve shared our joys and sorrows with each other; we’ve laughed and cried (a little) together, and we’ve stayed connected. In many ways, we’ve been dependent on each other and have given support and comfort whenever needed. But isn’t that what friends are for?
Back in 1982, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager wrote a song in answer to that question; Dionne Warwick’s recording of it is an all-time classic.
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for
The dictionary defines friend as a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts; a favored companion; one who supports and sympathizes. I even have some young friends who fit that description. I feel very fortunate to have the friends I have, both the old ones and the new ones. But, of all of them, two of my best friends in life have been my mother and my father. Although they are both gone, they are still my friends. I use the wisdom they gave me often; I cherish it and them and know I am blessed to have had them in my life. While they were here we shared our joys and sorrows with each other; we were connected, interdependent, and felt a certain oneness when together.
One of my students and a friend Barbara Page, whose father had recently died, shared with me a letter he had written to her when she was 13 years old. Barbara had had a “crushing” experience at a dance and was very disappointed and depressed over the experience. Her dad, sensing her sadness, wrote her the letter, which she has carried with her in her wallet all these years . . . and still does
The greatest thrill of happiness is the sharing of our joy with the
ones we love and the ones who love us. Equally important is the
sharing of our sadness, both great and small, with our loved ones.
How terrible it would be to have to keep our joys and sorrows silent!
But, joys and sorrows are brief interludes, signposts sprinkled along
our journey through life. When joy comes to us, we relish and share
the pause, and continue on; but when momentary unhappiness befalls
us, we pause only long enough to tidy up our hearts, and then we
continue on wiser and better equipped for the much rougher road
ahead. A full life has never known complete joy, because unhappiness
is the lubricant to a full life.
“Along my journey, I cried ’cause I had no shoes,
‘Til I met a man along the way who had no legs.”
We even have friends we’ve never met. I have lots of those: Gandhi, Einstein, Thich Nhat Hanh, Schweitzer, Jesus and the Buddha, to name a few. In that category, one of my friends . . . the late mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell, is the source of one of my favorite quotations. Who said it first isn’t known, but besides Campbell, Will Rogers liked it and used it often. Here’s the quote: “There are no such things as strangers, only friends we’ve not yet met.”
Actually, being a Buddhist, I think there’s a good possibility that the Buddha may be the original source for that quotation. If not, I’m sure he agreed with it. In fact, he took it a step further. He taught that not only were we all friends connected to and dependent on each other, but we are all one. Maybe that’s why we feel the way we do about our friends. Maybe we feel that they are a part of us. We know they are a part of our life, an important and needed part. But maybe it’s more than that. No maybe about it; it’s all of the above.
The Buddha spoke of two truths: the mundane truth which is the one we use in carrying out the daily routine tasks of life, and the ultimate truth. Knowing the ultimate truth makes us more skillful in our every-day decision-making process. The mundane truth is that we are each separate individuals. The ultimate truth is that we also are all one; each one of us a part of the whole, like the Earth is one planet, but it consists of land, water, flora, animals, people, etc. Like one’s body: one wonderful vehicle with lots of parts . . . including arms, legs, fingers, toes, eyes, brains, heart, etc. (See March 2010 blog.)
If our brains aren’t able to fully understand and process this idea of oneness, then perhaps it’s a truth we can just leave to the heart for processing. Who said that it’s only the brain that thinks, feels and perceives? And who said that all the heart does is pump? There’s something Zen-ish here that may be worth meditating on. In any event, it’s not difficult to understand and appreciate the idea of friends and friendships, whether they come from our family or someone else’s, whether we’ve met them or not, and whether they are here or gone away.
We share our life with our friends, and they share theirs with us. Sharing our friends’ joys and sorrows put ours in proper perspective. Each of us benefits from such sharing and helps us realize that the good times and the bad times make up the fullness of life itself. In fact, there are no good times and bad times; there are only times. We are the ones doing the labeling. Best not to get stuck with the label. Just keep smilin’, keep shinin’, knowing you can always count on a friend. It can be your dad or mom, your brother or cousin, a non-relative, or even someone you haven’t yet met.