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The Hand of a Friend

What does it mean to have a friend? To be a friend? When I was a kid, friends were the people you hung out with, the people who had your back, those you could call when you were lonely, bored or sad.

In those days, no one had 300 friends, but today, that’s what I have on Facebook. My first thought was, do I know 300 people? I’m sure I do if you count kids (being a teacher and all), but I’m not FB friends with any students, so I had to seriously wonder, who are these 300 friends?

I started looking through the list of my ‘friends’ and found it to be surprisingly a bit of an emotional roller coaster. First there were the friends who truly occupy a place in my heart, names and faces of people, some who I haven’t seen in a decade or more, but who I would greet with open arms if I saw them coming down the street. These are mostly people who are separated from me by geographic distances, but who I would happily still call friend.

Then there were the people that I don’t know. There were names that were vaguely familiar coupled with faces that I didn’t recognize. Why did I decide to add these people to my FB account? I’ve never knowingly accepted a friend request from a stranger, so how did I end up with so many unknown ‘friends’?

As I was starting to erase some of these strangers from my list, I was startled to realize that I had a few ‘friends’ who were people that I actually don’t like. Names that I looked at and felt myself scowl. They weren’t ex-friends who I had had a falling out with, they were just people that I had never gotten along with, somehow popping up under the definition of ‘friends’.

I went back to the beginning of the list and thought that I would pare down my FB list to just include people who were actually my friends. Afterall, what was the point of having all of these names, shouldn’t I just keep the ones who are in my life?

That proved trickier than I thought it would be. There were a few strangers who were easily discarded, but then, what about an ex-coworker that I still thought of fondly? What about someone who had been a friend in high school? Where was the line of who should stay in my list of friends and how much did it actually matter?

Then I ran into a few friends who I will never see again. It was like seeing a ghost, not scary, but sad and a little haunting. I couldn’t unfriend someone I loved who had died. It didn’t matter that they would never be online again.

I didn’t make it through my list of FB friends. I couldn’t. It was hard, complicated and at the same time pointless.

I don’t want 300 friends. I don’t even want to be able to categorize 300 people into how they fit into my life. What I want is meaningful moments.

When I started writing this blog, I looked up studies about the importance of friendship, I looked up dictionary definitions and expert opinions and what I discovered is that I don’t need any of that to know what friendship means to me.

My friends are the people who accept, respect and care about me. They don’t judge me by what I’m wearing or a moment of disagreement, they are the people who understand that I am more than the sum of my actions.

My friends make me smile and light me up from the inside, not because of their amazing wit or sparkling sense of humour, but because they allow themselves to open up and connect. They allow themselves to be human and vulnerable and meet me here, on this spinning planet, accepting that we are all just trying to keep our balance on this massive rock flying through space.

I have friends I haven’t seen in years, but still hold a little piece of my heart with them wherever they go. I have friends who’ve moved on from this world, but who’ve left a little piece of themselves in my heart. I don’t need to define my friends because there is a spark that they bring to my life that is unmistakable and beyond definition.

We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, we can connect to more people in more places than ever before. The problem is that we’re so busy being connected that sometimes we forget to take the time to make it meaningful.

In the past few months (two years?) of the continued struggles with my health, I have had times where I felt like I just couldn’t do it anymore. Times when hopelessness felt like it had a chokehold on my existence and I was overwhelmed with despair. I have not found a drug or a remedy that helps in these times, the only thing that I have found that can save me from my desperation is my friends.

It is hard for me to reach out when I am feeling terrible (it’s a little hard even when I’m just fine). I don’t like to burden other people or be a complainer, but each time I have reached out, I have been given strength that I didn’t even know was there to find. My friends have lifted me up and helped me to remember that a full heart soothes pain the way that nothing else can.

We are pack animals and we grow and thrive because of the love and support that we share with each other. Increasingly our world has become dominated by devices when what we really need isn’t a faster WIFI speed, what we really need is love, compassion and the hand of a friend.

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