My parents never told me whom I should choose as a friend, but they definitely showed me. My Mom often spoke of her very first best friend in the 1930’s, an African American girl named Carliss. They played every afternoon together for hours in the alley behind Mom’s house. An unusual pairing for the time period and rural setting in the South, to be sure. As for Dad, he had 3 best friends his entire life and a million acquaintances that he treated with kindness and respect always. As a kid growing up in a small town, I felt proud knowing that my Dad was well liked and known as a decent, fair, funny person.
With those concepts about friendship on my heart, I have lived a very colorful life sustained by many friends from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. Here are the 7 ESSENTIAL friends I think everybody would benefit from knowing:
- A Kindergartener – Because of their innocence and devotion to making their mark, a kindergartener is about as easy and charming a friend you will ever have! In my own experience, of course, these were my 2 children, with very different personalities though the same deadly sweet kindergarten-ish enthusiasm. Isa would hop in the car each afternoon from her long day at school and give me the “dot report” – who received the most velcro-backed ladybug markings on their name to represent bad behavior. She never had more than 1 and was very proud of this fact! Mario, on the other hand, shared that his teacher only gave them “7 minutes to daydream,” but later added that she had told him he was “very handsome”! If you have never been friends with a kindergartener, I recommend seeking one out at once!!!
- A Septuagenarian – Edith Marsh lived in the apartment below me when I was in my mid-20’s and she was 93. She had lost nearly everybody she loved in her life except her daughter who visited weekly. We became best friends! I would come home from work to find her sitting in her dark kitchen with the television on watching her favorite Kansas City Royals. She would bring me homemade molasses cookies (I never had the heart to tell her I hate molasses!) and on snow days we would sit on her “divan” and chat about her husband, Homer, who had been so loving and devoted to her. Edith told me I shopped too much and that I needed to “reel in a husband”!!!! I was devastated when she died and lonely for a long time, in spite of my many friends my age. Edith knew something about life that nobody else I had ever met understood – you can’t enjoy it by being a whiner!
- Someone “Differently Wired” – I have had lots of friends that fit in this category but today, the one that sticks in my mind is another neighbor in the quirky little apartment building I lived in as a single woman. I think her name was “Ann.” It seemed she was a bit crazy, as all she did was carry a bag and cheerfully pick up trash in our neighborhood. Of course, I admired her because of her smile and her bright red lipstick! So I started talking to her. Turns out, she believed that the service she was providing was all to honor Jesus, the man to whom she had always compared other men and the reason why she never married! As odd as “Ann” was, I am always attracted to people who are just a little bit off – because you can learn so much from them if you listen to what motivates them!
- Someone Who Has Lost Everything -I am cheating a bit here because Buddy was really my husband’s friend, only mine by “association.” But he inspired us both. First, because he was a hard-working man and someone from outside the “silk stocking” Law Firm world that most of our friends came from. But second, because Buddy was surviving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter who were killed by a drunk driver. He lived everyday with unspeakable sadness and carried the weight of this huge loss on his heart. Yet Buddy made a decision to try to enjoy life and do some things he had never tried before – a “bucket list,” of sorts. He was a simple man with lots of wisdom and we were so lucky to know him. He died about 18 months after losing his wife and daughter in a tragic hit-and-run motorcycle accident. Even though his life ended senselessly, we had never seen anybody so wounded make better use of the time they had here on Earth. We both learned from Buddy that attitude is everything.
- Someone Who Loves Music– We all have friends like this! The one that sticks out in my mind is my Dad’s college friend from Hawaii, Martin Luke.
He came to visit us a few times as I was growing up and he always brought his ukulele – an instrument that was very strange to me! My Dad would absolutely light up when Martin would pull out the ukulele and together they would sing the songs of their college years in the 1940’s like “Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree”. I watched them together enjoying this strange music on an odd instrument – 2 friends from vastly different backgrounds – and I understood that music can bring people together who would otherwise never have anything in common. Very cool.
- An Idealist – I had never met one until I was in Graduate School and Myra came to speak at a Gerontology Class. She brought Dan Callahan’s controversial book about setting limits on scarce health care resources by restricting access for patients over a certain age. And I argued with her. And she smiled and thought I was “cheeky.”
From there began a long friendship and working relationship with this remarkable woman with wildly liberal ideas! My life would have been so dull if I had never met this beautiful woman, the Idealist in my life, Myra. I am still so grateful.
- Someone Who Is Extremely Kind to Animals –
I never really gave much thought to animals, their needs and special gifts and their unique place on this planet, until I became a Mother. Yes, I had pets that I loved as a child and young adult, but it wasn’t until I witnessed the transformative power of love between human and animal with my own children that I began to think of them as very special. In the last few years, I have met many people who do amazing things in the animal rescue world and I admire them so much. And the brave friends who help us “escort our beloved pets to the rainbow bridge” I could never do without. There is one such friend, in particular, Colleen, who does this for people having a tough time saying goodbye to their dear pets – family members, really. Colleen has a special gift and if you don’t know someone who would lay down their own life for an animal, I recommend you seek one out – they are beautiful souls!