Tag Archives: friendship

Not Real Friends

One of the glib phrases people toss out in times of stress goes something like, “Don’t worry: your real friends will be the ones who are there for you.”
Which is no solace when they aren’t.
Our safety nets in life are designed in layers: while you’re up there, teetering on that thin wire and juggling some flaming sticks, you have several layers of protection you’ve built up. You have your friends; your family; maybe another tier of friends–coworkers, maybe?; people who helped bring you up but you don’t confide in; and so on and so on, all the way down to strangers.
The number of nets you’ll have will depend upon much, but most people have more than one.
Aside from my high-wire partner in life, my first tier of netting was built up of my close friends. Yes, they were newer to my life, but we’d celebrated birthdays, trashed-talked bosses, helped each other move.
And then I slipped, and I fell off my balancing act, and…
They weren’t there. They didn’t even drop me; Worse, they just let me fall.
I am lucky that I had farther layers below that net, that I was caught elsewhere, but the pain of the fall was sharp.
Some people have told me “at least I know how my true friends are.”  And I worry, because I don’t trust myself to know anything at all.
But then I discovered I have other people, with relationships so tenuous that they couldn’t count as a safety net, but with each faint touch of support, they strengthened this guide rope. They couldn’t be called “real friends” at all, by even a generous interpretation: I’ve never even met them.
These are people I met online, who live several states away. A friend from one quiet corner of the internet used to talk video games with me; lately we’ve been swapping wedding-planning horror stories. A sweet sweet girl on the wedding forum APracticalWedding reached out and, out of her own kindness, made me dozens of paper flowers–just to be nice. Others have offered advice, support, sympathy, and friendship.
Those friends kept me going when I felt bleak about everything. They helped in ways I can’t measure and I can’t thank them enough.
Which calls into question the meaning of “real friends.” What makes something real, anyway?
Though it’s lessoned, people still disparage these internet connections. It isn’t the same, not at all, but those “unreal” internet connections have been far better friends than some of the “real” ones I thought I had. And so I am grateful, and walk steady on my wire toward the big finale.

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Someone To Rely On

This time last year, a friend of mine was breathing with new lungs. His life was held in the balance, and it was yet to be seen if his body would accept someone else’s organs or if he would die. (I wrote this short story in his honor.)

My friend/former teacher has cystic fibrosis, and medical science said he should have died a long while ago. But he was lucky enough to live in a part of the country where researchers were actively studying CF, and was employed as a teacher with understanding bosses who made it work even when he was struggling.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder where the lungs slowly, inevitably, fill with mucus and fluid. Essentially, it’s drowning from the inside out. It was terrifying to watch. Just over a year ago, my friend was knocking on the pearly gates. His skin had a grey pallor; he hauled an oxygen tank around with him everywhere he went and had a bone-rattling cough; he was so thin his pants sagged where the belt was tied and his bones showed under his skin.

But David received a miracle: he was given the gift of new lungs, via a “risky” lung transplant.

And the reason he got those lungs, those incredible, life-saving lungs, was because he had a community.

This Sunday he told the members of the church we attend that it was our contribution that helped get him the lungs. See, there are a lot of people who desperately need a second chance, but for some stupid reason you have to opt-in to be an organ donor, rather than the much more logical and efficient opt-out method (seriously: sign up to be an organ donor. You won’t need those parts after you are gone, and you could literally save a life). So to pick who will get lungs, in this case, there is a long list of criteria, and those on the list are ordered in terms of crisis. You can’t get on the list unless you will literally die without a transplant, but you have to be really close to dying to actually get it. It’s crazy, and frightening to watch.

But one of the criteria was a support group. And my church was that support group for David. Even though his family lives out of town, our church was there to help him. After a lung transplant, you can’t do a lot. They pried his chest apart and took out organs, then slapped some new ones in there. It’s not an easy recovery. But the hospital is too dangerous a place to stay, since David has to take a battery of drugs just so his own body won’t attack the new lungs. Basically, it was all too easy for David to get sick.

So David needed someone to care for him but couldn’t be at the hospital. His parents did eventually make it to town, and they did a lot of the day-to-day stuff. But members of our church filled in the gaps, provided meals, provided company, wrote notes, prayed, sat with him in the hospital, and–recently–took him to and from his 1-year anniversary checkup (he has 103% lung capacity now!)

It really hammered home, for me, how important it is that we build a community for ourselves. It’s so easy–so incredibly easy–now to live in isolation. Self-imposed isolation where we connect mostly online and don’t have a lot of face-to-face interaction. And I get it: I’m home alone now as I write this, and I’d be annoyed as heck if someone else where here. I need space to think.

But we need balance, too. Because someday, God forbid, we might need help. We might need that community. And that’s the kind of help you can’t find at the last minute. You have to plant those seeds early.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always good at that. But I am grateful for David’s reminder: not just that there are miracles in this world, and that we can’t take a single breath for granted, but also that we need other people. I’m going to work on my community. I hope you’ll take a moment to show your appreciation for yours.


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Food For the Spirit

Maybe this will sound stupid, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we eat. I mean, we have to, on some level of course, to live. But I started a diet (yay New Years’ resolutions!) and it is affecting a lot more than just the numbers on a scale.
In diet world, you only eat because you have to. (Some crazy people will claim that this isn’t necessary–those people are liars.) You eat at regularly scheduled times, in quiet, with only you and the food you must eat. You eat therefore to provide building materials for muscles and bones, to keep your brain singing (unless you’re on a “cleanse,” then you’re breaking your brain long-term), to keep basic processes basically processing. If food tastes good, it is either evil and trying to destroy you or it is merely incidental to your need to eat it.
This, of course, it’s completely wrong.
As real people, we know that, but diet world is sometimes overwhelming, a palpable intensity that you MUST, MUST lose weight, no matter what, no matter how weird it is.
Incidentally, that’s why a lot of diets fail.
Because eating also provides an excellent excuse for socializing. My church has a joke that our symbol should be a covered dish, we have so many potlucks. And you know in college you can’t host an important meeting without buying pizza. It gives you something to do with your hands while you chat; it allows other engagements to last longer, because you’ve got built-in pitstops to refuel. It’s a way to build friendships, as you learn what you like about each other and maybe share a dish.
It also helps us express our feelings. Sure, sometimes we can go overboard with a pint of Bluebell when we’ve had a bad day, but making a cake for someone’s birthday gives me great joy, and it feels like I’m actually transporting that joy to the eater in the process. And we all know that the thing to do for funerals or prolonged illness is make a home-cooked meal, something hearty. These foods sate the body while providing a vehicle for our sadness, which we as a culture are so terrible at expressing. Making a special meal for my fiance wouldn’t be as significant if the act of feeding him didn’t also say something about our relationship, how I want to nourish this thing we have together, make it grow up big and strong.
Cooking is a skill, and it’s a hobby that you are always going to need to spend more time learning: there is always something more. It not only feeds the body, therefore, but it feeds the spirit and the mind (and in my kitchen, the arms. Kneading dough is tough!)
Food also carries its own significance. Sometimes this is a religious significance, such as the sourdough my church has used lately in communion. There is wine at weddings, and Sprite makes me feel a little woozy because it is my I-don’t-feel-good drink of choice.
Food has meaning. Much more meaning than we commonly allow it.
You could (and should, probably) work significant or at least meaningful foods into your work (lembas bread, anyone?), but also take a moment to appreciate the  many things your meal is giving you in your daily life.
Then break bread with someone you love.


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