Often times I have said it myself, without much hesitation, and I believed it strongly to be true. A name comes up in conversation and the replies often include, “Oh, yeah, I know her. We’re friends,” or “She’s a good friend of mine.” Quick to pledge alliance or association, eager for that connection. To belong. The funny thing about friendships is their life cycle. They are born, evolve and grow, all the while wondering when and if we will mourn their passing, when they just don’t fit anymore.
Lately there have been a couple of articles that continue to flood my news feed about friendship. Letters addressed to, “The best friend who decided we aren’t friends anymore” and “The friend who I no longer needed,” or something of the sorts. I have read bits and pieces, but in all honestly, they make me angry. I am angry because the last few years have been especially hard when it comes to friendship and these letters remind me that it is often easier to walk away then to live out the values of the word.
The world uses the word, friend, lightly. It is a flighty word, full of magic and air. There is no wonder why its weightless. When it’s used to describe anyone and everyone whose name we can recall without much effort, it loses its weight. In my world, however, it is massively heavy, like any blessing it comes with the weight of burdens. It means more than a quick playdate or grabbing coffee and strolling around Target. The thickness of the word is comforting. It is knowing that when you lay it down, it is grounded. It will not float out of your reach like the feather of a crow, the winds can not move it.
More often than not these friendships are replaceable. They are holding zones for the here and now, playgrounds open to all, until we disagree on how to parent. Until we discover we don’t share the same amount of passion, even when we have the same passions. We are good enough to be deemed a friend until we learn of religious or political beliefs. Until we come to the bus stop without makeup, covered in spit up and spilled coffee. We are fair-weather companions, window shopping buddies, too afraid to venture into the dark rooms where the real light begs to shine.
For almost 10 years our family lived in a townhouse. We bought it when we were newly married and had one child and another on the way, a great starter home for a few years, we thought, quaint and perfect. Fast forward a decade and you will see two adults, four children, a large dog and a tiny cat feeling like crammed like sausage in casing within the walls. Our house was full of noise and had no lack of love but the amount of stuff was overwhelming and the storage was not ideal. The garage became the home for all things without a home. It was so bad that you couldn’t walk through it without fear of being beheaded by a rake that may or may not fall from a shelf. In all fairness, forget the shelf, it might as well have been teeter-tottering on the top of a heap of bikes, tools and pool toys above your head. We could barely move in there and preferred not to even confirm its existence expect for emergencies. i.e. It’s Christmas Eve and we need to find the stockings, type situations. The last place on earth I ever wanted anyone to see was the garage. I made excuses and flat-out lied, to keep people out of it. To keep them from seeing the dark, ugly, mess that I could never find the time or energy to address. The unpolished and unnecessary clutter that was no longer serving, it was strictly a source of disappointment and shame.
One day when I was desperate for help, a friend had stopped by and ended up cleaning up the kitchen from dinner, while I was giving the kids a bath. Her cleaning, I later found out, involved taking out the garbage. Where were the garbage cans, you might ask? In the garage. I was horrified. I was even more afraid of what she would think of me now that she has seen the less than perfect part of my house, of me, all of the stuff that I tried to hide.
When I tried to laugh it off and joke around about how I never let anyone out there, how she slipped past me and now she must die with the secret of my hoarding ways that was revealed when she opened those doors, she didn’t disown me. She offered to come over and help me clean it.
So we picked a date, she brought her truck and after several trips to the dump, it was no longer so scary to open the door. To me, the word, “friend”, sounds like laughter over the hollow clashing of boxes and trash bouncing in the back of a pick up truck. Friendship cleanses you. It helps you take out the garbage that is holding you back and create more space to live.
Over the last couple of years, I have found that not all friendships hold that same standard. Some, sadly, are adding to the trash heap, with negativity, comparison, jealously, miscommunication and gossip. Some, friends, are here to watch you falter, to talk to others about the amount of times you have injured yourself in the garage instead of offering grace and their Chevy. I’m not proud to admit it, but I would be lying if I pretended to never have been that withholding friend.
After many months spent mourning friendships I believed to have had, that no longer fit, I am beginning to see the lesson here. In our world of instant gratification and thousands of social media followers we owe it to ourselves, our children and families to let the weight of the word sit with us for a while. We need to be offering flashlights and hands to hold when the garages ahead are just too scary to bear alone. We need to figure out what we have to offer and offer it. We need to allow our mess to be a blessing. Let’s be the friend that is grounded, that doesn’t disappear with the changing winds, that stands strong and drives right up over the piles and makes it known that we are here to help.