I woke up early this morning (early for a Saturday -- 6:43 a.m.) thinking about friendship, thinking back over the years to when I first came to Charlotte (June '76) and didn't know a soul here. I missed my family and friends back home terribly, and we wrote letters back and forth and chatted on the phone when we could. (This was way before the days of cheap long distance, cell phones, e-mail, and instant messaging, so phone contact was not all that frequent!) I worked temp jobs to pass the time until I could find a teaching job, and I met good people there, but I wasn't at any one job long enough to develop any long-term friendships. I wasn't going to church at the time, so that wasn't an avenue for meeting people. I was taking riding lessons, but everyone at the barn was either a lot older than me or a lot younger. It was a really long summer. In August I started my first teaching job, and began to settle in. That first year teaching I made a really good friend, a science teacher, but at the end of that year she moved to Atlanta. I was devastated! The next year I got to be good friends with the teacher who took her place, but at the end of that year she moved to Raleigh! Then I got pregnant and quit my job -- and there went what I thought was my best avenue for making friends! I had met a lot of other people during those two years, and I kept in touch with some of them, but none of those friendships were of the sort that I had left behind in Atlanta... But lo and behold, other avenues opened up, and I subsequently learned much about friendship, especially the truth of the old adage: to have a friend you have to be one. Eventually, through those early experiences here, I learned to be grateful for my friends back home and to trust that I would find friends in my new home, and I discovered that the route to friendship was doing the things that make my life meaningful, letting go of worry about when and if I would find a friend, and living in the present moment.
I have friendships now with all kinds of people, and these friendships have sustained me through the proverbial "thick and thin" (both literally and figuratively!) Friendships don't appear out of thin air, they begin with a contact, an openness to learning about each other, listening during a walk or a meal or while working on a project together... So where did I meet all these people? Thinking back, I see that I met one really good friend on a walk around the block, others I met through my volunteer work (La Leche League, Mecklenburg County Literacy Council, Mathcounts coaching, Math Club...), some I met through my tutoring work (parents of students), some from church and support groups, lots were parents of my children's friends, or parents I met through homeschooling connections, or friends of my children, or friends of other friends... and quite a few fall into several of those categories. Some have stuck around and others have moved away, but some of those latter I am still in touch with. Some who I lost touch with I later reconnected with, a joyful experience for both of us! That's happened a couple times just in the last year. And of course -- last but not least -- some of my closest friends are family members, both blood relatives and "married-ins".
So, how to find a friend? The only way that has ever worked for me is to put myself out there, follow my interests, and keep my ears and my heart open all the while for the adventure and blessing of friendship. I act on this last bit by trying to remember to treat each person I meet as though they already are a friend. That, to me, is the meaning of the saying I quoted above.
My friends have taught me how to be a friend. Through their patience and care, I discovered over the years that it takes work and time to build and sustain a friendship -- friendships don't happen overnight, or by chance. Good friendships have a lot of listening built in, and I love to listen to my friends about as much as I like to talk...well, maybe even more. :-) For me, there is no better feeling than to know I have given support and encouragement to a friend... I am so grateful for the presence of my friends in my life, for all the love and forgiveness and laughter and sorrow we have shared.
(...and as she takes her sappy self off to breakfast, the strains of "Precious Friend" echo in the background...)