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Many people have the feeling, constantly having to work through checklists and hardly being able to meet daily demands. They are busy with running in their daily hamster wheel of work, excitement and entertainment. Friendship is healthy, a magazine promoting healthy life would argue in this context: Stable social connections represent an important factor of protection against burnout. To maintain a circle of friends and do things together does one good and is a form of relief. For often it is the friends, who discover first, if someone steers toward burnout.
"Are you always gonna be there when I grow up, are you?
Cross my heart."
(Era, Don't You Forget, 2003)
That's what Friends are for...
"Let's stay in touch, let's stay friends..." Haven't you heard that too often as well as a form of paying lip service to one another, while not really finding the energy to make that hastily made promise true? Do we care enough for each other to make time for each other? Sometimes we lose each other, while living in the same area still. Sometimes we live on different continents and it seems a matter of time, how long we can fight that "Out of sight, out of mind"-reflex. Sometimes we forget our friends over work and family. And then one day we are surprised that they are gone.
Even if we care for others, we do not always feel like smiling. Maybe we have just had a bad day. Usually it starts with a misunderstanding, a bad feeling, a conversation, a vague interpretation of information received second hand, any kind of indisposition, whatever. Some people are very sensitive about feelings, especially their own, which they tend to overrate and put on public display - even on a webpage - rather than keeping them in hiding. Especially bad is the feeling, when you sense that you have let someone down, who trusted you. When you made a big mistake, even unintentionally. Without knowing or paying attention to what we actually do, we may hurt others. As a result, the others may feel betrayed, lied to, left out, neglected or jealous. The hard part is not only to apologize but straighten things out, slowly regain the trust we have betrayed, knowingly or unknowingly.
Old pictures occasionally reveal how much younger and more handsome we may have been. Maybe.
At some point it may help to project ourselves into our counterpart's position, try to feel what he or she might have felt, try to understand what we didn't get earlier. To take a moment of silence and loneliness to reflect on the past and possible future. Figure out what we can do in order to avoid a chain reaction caused by misunderstanding, anger and grief. "Mea culpa - my own fault," instead of "pity me," actively pursuing repentance instead of wallowing in self pity. Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others at the same time in order to regain inner peace instead of repressing, denying and seemingly purging the problems until they surface again a while later. Drowning them in alcohol wouldn't help either, for problems can swim, as a friend used to put it. The next time just be more careful, and at first think of possible consequences of your actions! For friendship should be handled with care.
Friendship must be cultivated to persist. It is such a great gift. Sticking together, having first friends around to play with as a kid, to hang out with as a teenager in afternoons and evenings. As an adult to share milestones in life with, invite them to the wedding as witnesses of the great promise, a baptism celebrating the birth as one of the biggest miracle in life. And who later may attend your funeral, share the sad moments and memories of you with those left behind. Maybe have the one or other good laugh in reminiscence. Often friends find each other through parallels, similar interests or by simply connecting easily with each other. To make friends is one thing, keeping them another.
As life goes on, people drift into different directions, especially time constraints and different priorities on family and work may lead to a drastic reduction of the circle of friends, if it ever had been big. To have a best friend though is payless. It is outstanding to have someone, with whom you can talk about everything, including your own weakness, inner conflict and embarrassment, knowing that the most personal information will never be used against you. To have someone to just pour your heart out may be rewarding and healing at the same time. Whom you can count on for help when in need, just as you would do it the other way round. Someone you consider a rare, true friend. The other day I was browsing through this cultural travel guide on Austria, "A Quick Guide to Customs and Etiquette." It provided a great summary statement, which somehow reminded me of a Sociology class on teen and peer behaviour way back: "Friendship in Austria, like in Germany, is something very special, and 'Freund' is a term used with care. Most Austrians have a small, closely knit circle of friends and a wide network of acquaintances. Frequently friends are those from school or university days. Americans and Britons appear to have many friends, but the relationship is much looser."
"Where is the moment we needed the most?
You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost."
(Daniel Powter, Bad Day, 2005)
Sometimes you face the loss of a good friend. And you can just hope that one day we'll all meet again in that heavenly beer garden.
As a matter of fact the circle of friends is tighter there in the heart of Europe. The understanding is different, not as wide as in the US, where I would often face an inflation of the term friend. The other night a waiter at Logan's kept addressing every customer as "my friend." Most of them he had probably never seen before. And years ago being down at a Kountry Kitchen place for breakfast, the waitress kept calling people "honey," a term of endearment that is usually reserved for a little closer relationships. Although we also found that honey bee baby toy (not quite Maya the Bee) amusing back then, which could say with a squeaky voice: "Hi, honey!" After working closely together for years, some colleagues would start phone conversations with "Hello, my friend." Friendship proves itself when also former colleagues stay in touch.
"You can choose your friends but you donít get to choose your relatives," as the saying goes. So better cherish those well selected over the times, those colleagues, comrades, buddies, friends that stuck. However, in the end it is not so much important what you call people but how you treat them. And it is so important that we do not give up our friends, when they are in need. One day I watched the movie "Things we lost in the fire," alone in a foreign country. About a family getting contact with the best friend of the late husband, an addict. It reminded me of reestablishing at least occasional contact to a friend in need. And if it is only for a conversation at candlelight over a glass of tab water, or at a sick bed in hospital. It feels important not to forget each other and turn away, as we are in better shape at that time, which can change quickly. We may attempt to convince the other to take fate into the own hand for the better. And it has been rewarding ever since. We do not need many friends, but those we got, we better cherish. And visit, when they are not so good.
A while later revisiting the subject, in another smart culture guide about the US I found the following: "Those used to Northern European reserve and the formal ritualized courtship of Asia may think making friends in the U.S.A. will be a breeze. Yet newcomers can be confused and disappointed that a relationship may go no further than surface friendliness. Americans are friendly to many, but like in most other countries, admit relatively few to that inner circle of deep friendship." Moving around a lot, which is more common in the Wide West (not too Wild any more), may be one of the factors that prevent close friendships from keeping. "Out of sight, out of mind" is something you have to fight constantly to prevent it from happening. For if you really want to, you can keep the closest friend, no matter what the distance is. Or as the French music group Era had put it: "Don't you forget about me..."
Reunion for a belated birthday celebration, delayed by activities around a move. Click for download.
The other day I rejected a friendship offer. "If you buy this TV set, we will become good friends", a salesclerk talked me out of picking the product with the lowest price by indicating frequent repairs. I immediately got worried, kind of like my Welsh colleague, who said about himself: "I am a worrier, not a warrior". The Bryan Ferry song comes to mind: "Don't worry, be happy!" Although I am not sure about that next line in the song lyrics: "Everything will turn out alright."
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Some friends remain unforgotten.