On Standing in Corners and the Love of Friends

“Friends are the Family we choose for ourselves.” I’m not sure where first I heard this quote, but as I have aged, I have realized how very true it is.

Please, don’t mistake me – I love my family dearly. But in many ways, they don’t know me as well as those with whom I’ve chosen to surround myself over the years, and I suspect they would agree with that sentiment. I bet many of you feel the same about your families and friends, although there are clear exceptions – my mother is, and will always be, my closest friend.

But there is something special about finding people out there among the sea of humanity individuals with whom we find a harmonic vibe – a parallelism – a click. Sometimes, we know it right away, and sometimes it takes many years to develop.

I met one of my best friends while I was in college. I woke up one morning, and sitting in the hallway was a guy playing a guitar; next to him was a young woman stuffing a mile-long sub sandwich into her mouth. I was at Wellesley College, which is a women’s college, so clearly, the guy was attached to someone. Well, the someone was across the hall in another room in my new friend’s room. The two of them came out, and shortly – strangely enough, we were all singing, I believe, “American Pie.” It was all sort of odd, but we ended up joined at the hip for the next two years until they graduated. The two across the hall have become lifelong friends. Linda is in the picture at the top; we go camping together and just sit in one another’s company when we can.

Another of my dearest friends I met during medical school – strangely, she helped me pass Anatomy by not going to dissection lab with everyone else because, like me, she worked much better alone, but couldn’t afford the time to do both. It hadn’t occurred to me that skipping the class could help, but in the end, if I hadn’t, I would’ve done much worse. Her perspective has been something I’ve valued since. Friends are like that – they show you ways of considering things that you wouldn’t have seen without them.

We have, also, a certain “stratosphere” of friendship, as well. There are the closest of friends – like Linda – and then the newest ones, the ones we meet online or at kids’ events whom we think we might like to get to know, but aren’t quite sure yet – and everyone in between. And we label them all “friends,” and, at some level, we love them all. They add shades and hues to the palette of our lives; we enjoy their stories, revel in their successes, and share in their anguish – and they take the same benefits from us, though often it is difficult to believe this. I’ve actually given my closest friends a cheesy label – the Spectacular Six. These Six are the first to know what’s going on in my life, and when things are really touchy, sometimes, they’re the only ones to know. And they are an incredibly varied group – a radiologist in Wisconsin, a librarian in Cambridge, a businessman in upstate New York (who I met, strangely enough, in a ski lodge; we chatted, and I’ve never seen him since – our friendship is based entirely on correspondence and shared ideas), a lawyer in Arkansas, a pediatrician in Pennsylvania, and a teacher in Arkansas. They attest to the fact that friends reflect the many sides of ourselves; people are deep and multifaceted, with many loves, many needs, and many things to share. And, like many of you, I cherish and protect my close friends, as they do me, while I keep on the lookout for others who might someday join that group.

It can be hard to put oneself out there. I’m at heart a shy person – I talk a good game, but put me in a room full of people, and I tend to freeze. If we were all together in a large gymnasium, me and all of you, I’d be the one hiding in the corner hoping not to be noticed. Still, I try to push my envelope and meet people when I can. Currently, I’m meeting authors and editors online – and I’ve met many wonderful, not-scary people whom I hope will become lifelong friends.

Today, I encourage you to think about your friends. If you’re like me and are perhaps a little nervous about people – reach out to someone who isn’t one of your closest friends. Say hi. Tell them what you’ve been up to, and invite them to do the same. If you’re one of those lucky outgoing folks, contact someone who you haven’t heard from in a while – it could be that they’re a little nervous about getting in touch. You’ll be glad you did; really, nothing bad can come of it, and you never know – maybe you’ll end up drawing someone closer to you. Perhaps you’ll end up really helping someone out. A little love goes a long way, even if we in today’s society hesitate to call it “love.” We find it a scary word, full of implications. But all it means is caring. Caring enough to act.

And to my friends out there, old, new, and the ones I haven’t yet had the fortune to meet – thanks for helping make me who I am. You’ve made me a better person, and taught me a lot about love.

And isn’t that what family is supposed to do?




Of Rocks and Jars

I once heard a lecture – probably many of you have as well – discussing prioritization. The lecturer said that our time is akin to a jar, and the things we must do are akin to rocks. If we are to do the things we must do, we must put the big rocks – our biggest priorities – in first, otherwise, they’ll never fit.

Sometimes, it seems as if we’d like to trade up for bigger jars, or perhaps trade in for smaller rocks – yet it never seems possible to do so. I’ve got lots of rocks: family; health; books to edit; books to write; stories to follow up with online; and this new wonderful world of the “Platform.” I’m sure you all have plenty of rocks as well, and I’m equally certain that you spend as much time as I do wishing for different rocks and jars.

But my dad once told me something that has always stuck with me. He said that if everyone in the world took all of their troubles to one central location and piled them up on one great big heap, and if we could all choose whatever problems we liked – we’d all pick up our own problems again and go home. And you know what? I think he’s right.

And so it comes to this – finding a way to make peace with our own rocks and jars. In the end, perhaps some of our rocks got there by accident… not of our own doing. But largely, we helped get them there. We chose our own rocks. So why not be grateful for them? And if, each day, there are too many rocks – set the ones aside that don’t fit, and pick them up and try again tomorrow, remembering that, along our own paths, we stopped to pick up each and every one of those rocks, loving them for something specific. This one for its shape, that one for its shine, and so on. Enjoy your rocks – don’t complain over them. And if they grow too heavy – discard the ones you can. Don’t mistake me – I’m not advocating leaving your children by the side of the road. I’m merely saying that for the most part, troubles that we pick up along the way can, in some form, be set down again if we choose.

We have a saying in this family: “Take what you want – and pay for it.” There’s another way of saying that – “Take what you want – but pay for it.” It means that we each make our choices, but every choice comes with consequences. As we grow, and as we learn, we must accept both the good – the ‘and’ – and the bad – the ‘but.’ And then, we move forward, trying to remember that largely, our paths have not been thrust upon us, but chosen as we proceeded – and, for us, guided by our God. Perhaps that is true for you, and perhaps not, but hopefully you do not see your life as a random accumulation of events.

Today, I encourage you to look at your priorities. Take the ones you enjoy, whether you see them as burdens or not, and thrust them joyfully into your jar. And the ones you can do without? Cast them aside to make room for the rocks that lie upon the path ahead.