"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”
--A.A. Milne, "The House at Pooh Corner"
As the temperatures begin to get chilly at night and the days shorten and September’s siren song calls out; as moving vans clog the streets of the city, with harried parents and anxious students; I remember….
Thirty years ago and the beginning of my graduate studies, three years of books and lectures and tests and serious higher education, all for an advanced degree. Grad school was “serious” for me because I did not take my undergraduate studies, well—very seriously. At college I hit the parties too hard and the books too soft, loved my extra curricular activities much more than my actual classes.
By the time I got to Boston University School of Theology in the fall of 1986, I was ready to really learn. I can still hear the deep and wise voice of my favorite professor, Doctor Beck, who made the Old Testament come to life with gravitas and drama. Still fondly recall my walks down busy Commonwealth Avenue, Green Line subway cars rushing by with “clicks” and “clacks”. Still remember how excited I was just to be there and begin the rest of my life.
But three decades on I cherish one amazing God-given gift from that time in my life, more than any class or knowledge or training or smarts I found at school. It is this: the friends that I made then. Friends. Barb and Kathy and Barb and Mitch. Friends for life. Friends in life. Friends who began their walk with me three decades ago and are still with me. Friends I cannot imagine living without. Friends I trust I will grow old with too.
If I were asked for advice by an undergrad about to set off for college or a young adult about to plunge into graduate work, or any young person, I’d offer this. Seek out good friends. Make good friends. Surround yourself with friends, but only the ones who both want the best for you and see the best in you. Be a good friend too. Loyal and kind. Dependable and compassionate. Slow to anger and quick to forgive.
Because one of the most important tasks of growing up and into whomever the person is that God made you to be, is to undertake this work of friendship. Real friendship. The kind of friend you’d call at 2 a.m. if you were stuck at a party and really needed a ride home or were stuck on the side of the road with car trouble and really needed help. Who always remembers your birthday. Who would help you move from one apartment to another even if you didn’t provide pizza and beer. Who you’d call first with the best of news or worst of news.
Friends. Friends for life. Put that on your “to-do” list as you pack for school.
We live in an odd time for friendship in our world and the young know this better than anyone else. Facebook tells us we have hundreds, even thousands of “friends” in our cyber circles of virtual community. Technology makes it possible for us to connect instantly to almost any “friend”, any time, any where, with a text or Snapchat or Instagram or tweet. Yet there is something unreal about such “friendships” that often exist on a screen and give fleeting, ethereal bursts of connection. A poke. A “like”. A smile emoticon.
Yet the truth about true friends?
Most of us can count that number on one hand. These are the friends who somehow make us more than we would ever be alone. The friends we are called by God to seek out. To cultivate with care. To claim, and then maybe never let go. Friendship then is not a transaction but is instead transformational. It is a relationship that brings out our best selves. As Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar College, who teaches a course on the literature of friendship, said: “It’s not about what someone can do for you; it’s who and what the two of you become in each other’s presence.”
In the days ahead, many of us and our loved ones will prepare for school and prepare for life. My prayer and hope is simple: that all of us might find a true friend and be a true friend too. Life is good, that’s for sure. But a life with friends, old friends, good friends, longtime friends? That is a miracle.
Thank you God, for friends.