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Summer is about to end, and with it the most mellow time of the year. I’d like to leave this season with a gentle and accurate message that came from the internet and resonates with me:

A newlywed young man was sitting on the porch on a humid day, sipping ice tea with his father. As he talked about adult life, marriage responsibilities and obligations, the father thoughtfully stirred the ice cubes in his glass and cast a clear, sober look on his son.

“Never forget your friends,” he advised, “they will become more important as you get older. Regardless of how much you love your family, you will always need friends. Remember to go out with them occasionally — if possible — but keep in contact with them somehow.”

“What strange advice!” thought the young man. “I just entered the married world. I am an adult and surely my wife and the family that we will start will be everything I need to make sense of my life.”

Yet he obeyed his father, kept in touch with his friends and annually increased their number. Over the years, he became aware that his father knew what he was talking about.

Inasmuch as time and nature carry out their designs and mysteries on a person, friends are the bulwarks of our life. After 70-plus years of life, here is what he, and you, and I will have learned:

Time passes.

Life goes on.

Children grow up. They cease to be children and become independent. And to the parents, it breaks their hearts but the children are separated from the parents because they begin their own families.

Jobs/careers come and go.

Illusions, desires, attraction, sex … weaken.

People can’t do what they did physically when they were young.

Parents die but you move on.

Colleagues forget the favors you did.

The race to achieve slows.

But true friends are always there, no matter how long or how many miles away they are. A friend is never more distant than the reach of a need, intervening in your favor, waiting for you with open arms and in some way blessing your life.

When we started this adventure called life, we did not know of the incredible joys or sorrows that were ahead. We did not know how much we would need from each other. Love your parents, take care of your family, but keep a group of good friends. Stay in touch with them. [Tell this to] your friends — even those you seldom see — who help make sense of your life. (End)

Friends, especially old friends, are witnesses to our life. They have helped us soldier though the hard times and been there with us for the celebrations and the fun times. We don’t have to explain much to them because they know most of the details already. They have aged along with us and can laugh at the same incongruities and absurdities that are specific to our generation. We can compare our satisfactions as well as our aches and pains, and share the advice and names of our physicians and our medicines. As we are reduced in stature, we are reduced together so the same relative heights hold and we continue on unperturbed.

Most satisfying is the shared wisdom that has come from living a substantial number of years. We can comfort each other as we laugh about the difficulties and perceived difficulties in our lives, and we never need to feel embarrassed about our thoughts or our hang-ups.

The most painful part comes with the inevitable loss of close friends. They are irreplaceable and their absence leaves a hole in our lives and our hearts. “I’m only going to befriend younger people I meet,” we declare. The same for our doctors and dentists, who have the temerity to retire or die.

So to my dear friends — and yes, those professionals who keep me together — just know how I treasure you.

The following dialogue was inspired by an actual conversation. No friendships ended as a result of this interaction.

Joe: That’s interesting.

Aaron: What made it interesting?

Joe: It held my interest.

Aaron: That’s tautological.

Joe: What does tautological mean?

Aaron: It’s a kind of circular argument, like something is interesting because it held your interest. So, what’s interesting about what I said?

Joe: No, you see, it’s not what you said, so much as the way you said it and, of course, the fact that it was, indeed, you who said it. Like, remember that time you said that our boss was having an affair with the man she kept insulting at work and then, lo and behold, she was?

Aaron: Yes, I remember that was because she was having an affair with you.

Joe: Oh, right. Good times.

Aaron: Can you tell me how what I said interested you?

Joe: But, first, did you read the latest thing about Donald Trump?

Aaron: Which one?

Joe: The one where he’s mad at the media and the media is reporting about stuff he says isn’t true.

Aaron: You’re going to have to be more specific than that.

Joe: You want specifics? How about Russia?

Aaron: What about it? It’s a country.

Joe: You’re funny.

Aaron: Stop calling me funny and tell me what Trump and the media are disagreeing about.

Joe: Are you angry?

Aaron: I’m trying to have a conversation.

Joe: Conversation. That’s interesting.

Aaron: What’s interesting?

Joe: It’s like the way you’re looking at me right now. You know what I mean?

Aaron: Nope.

Joe: You have your eyes open and your eyebrows are up, like you’re expecting me to say something interesting, when, you know, you’re the one who always says interesting things. I read interesting things. This
morning, I read something compelling about Trump and the media.

Aaron: OK, let’s go with that. What was compelling about it?

Joe: It was just, you know, well, maybe you wouldn’t think it’s compelling and maybe you knew it already, which means I probably don’t have to tell you.

Aaron: I want to talk about something.

Joe: We are talking about something. We’re talking about me and you and this weather. You know what I’m saying?

Aaron: Not really.

Joe: The weather is all around us, right? And, it’s all around everyone else. Except that, when people are somewhere else, the weather around them isn’t the same as it is here. So, to experience weather, you really have to be here.

Aaron: Right, uh huh. Go on.

Joe: Now you’re looking at me differently. You’re frowning. You need to laugh more often. That’s your problem.

Aaron: I don’t have a problem. I’m trying to have a conversation.

Joe: About what?

Aaron: Well, a few minutes ago, you said what I said was interesting and I’ve been waiting patiently to find out what you thought was interesting about it.

Joe: Oh. Let me think. I’m going to replay the entire conversation in my head and then I’ll let you know.

Aaron: Right, sure.

Joe: No, really. Was it before or after the conversation about the weather?

Aaron: Before.

Joe: See, I was listening. I remembered that we talked about the weather.

Aaron: You weren’t listening to me. You were listening to you. You brought up the weather.

Joe: Right, OK, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t listening to what you said all that closely, but I know it was interesting.

Aaron: What part? Do you remember any of the conversation?

Joe: Not really. I have to go. It’s been nice chatting with you.

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Friends help make our lives special. They are fun to be with, we like the person we are when we are with them, they share activities with us, they offer an ear when we need to talk over important matters, they cheer us up when we are down, they lend a hand when we need help, they broaden our horizons with their intelligence, knowledge and experience — and, most critically, they are there for us in times of crisis. Those are typical answers when we ask people, “What is a friend?”

But what if our friend doesn’t like us as much as we like him or her?

According to an article in The New York Times and other media, recent research on the subject of friends would suggest that only about half of our friendships are mutual. Whoa! That means someone you think is a close friend might not feel the same way about you. Now that is a thought to make you feel instantly abandoned. And, according to the Times, through experts interviewed, “the authenticity of one’s relationships has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being.”

Who are our friends? Where do they come from? How many real friends can we have? How do we judge whether they are true friends? And are we a true friend in return?

Certainly a true friend is more than someone on Facebook. Alexander Nehamas, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, told The Times that friendship is more like beauty or art, which kindles something deep within us and is “appreciated for its own sake.” It’s a lovely thought.

Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar College, edited a book, “The Norton Book of Friendship,” with his friend, Eudora Welty in 1991. Sharp is quoted in The Times as saying, “The notion of doing nothing but spending time in each other’s company has, in a way, become a lost art,” to be replaced by volleys of texts and tweets.

To have a friendship with someone has several requirements. First is time. It takes time to understand the other person and to trust that person enough to let him or her understand you. So trust is another requirement. Lucky are those who have friends from elementary school or college, for those have withstood the test of time. Additionally those friends are witnesses to our lives as we are to theirs. That is a relationship to be treasured and not replaced, and it may be resumed even after years have gone by with no contact. Honesty is another. You have to be able to respond honestly to a friend, even if it is not what he or she wants to hear, and to receive the same in return.

But there is more. A close friend is one with whom you interact almost daily because you would otherwise miss the contact. That person is one whose sentences you could reliably finish because, to some extent, you live within each other’s heads. That person is someone who, you absolutely know from prior evidence, has your back. And that is a person who knows and accepts your shortcomings even as you accept theirs because you protect each other’s vulnerabilities. I have only experienced that kind of friendship with one or two people because there isn’t enough time really to get to know that many people, however interesting they may seem.

Then there are perhaps four or six others with whom I maintain ongoing friendships. These are good friends whom I enjoy common ground with, and feel concern and affection for. These friends provide a support system and a social circle to which we all contribute. Others are more casual friends, dependent on circumstances, and they may move in and out of my world at any given time.

Friends and friendships are tested by crises. I have had my share, as have my friends, and we have been there for each other. We will be there again because we are best friends.

  

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