Friendship is a complex matter. It is not defined by simply saying hello and expecting a meaningful relationship to just naturally follow. I have lived alongside some neighbors for years, without our so much as uttering more than a word or two to one another, yet feeling that we were friends just the same. Still others have conversed with me across our property lines on many occasions, yet I felt no closer to them than the mailman or UPS driver. There’s no accurate measuring stick for friendship. It is difficult to define. We know it when it exists, and intuitively understand when it doesn’t.
I remember when my stepson was in junior high school. He would come home each day and inform us how one individual or another was his new “best friend.” One day, after watching one “best friend” after another disappoint him or desert him, I sat him down and explained what friendship was all about. I told him that in a lifetime, he would have many, many acquaintances. Some of those relationships might actually evolve into casual friendships. But true “best friends” are a rare commodity indeed. In a lifetime, he might be lucky to have one. If he were to have more than that, he could consider himself truly blessed.
There is an old saying that goes something like this: “You can’t pick your neighbors, and you can’t choose your relatives, but you can pick your friends.” I have been blessed to have had many acquaintances in my lifetime. Each of them has enriched my life in some fashion or another. Most of them those relationships been situational, and have relied upon a common interest or involvement to sustain them. Most fade through no intent or design, but as a natural consequence of life’s changing circumstances. Sometimes acquaintances move away; sometimes we are the ones who move. But friendships persevere, whether we are in close proximity with one another, or separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles. I have been particularly blessed to have had quite a few friendships, each of them unique in their own way, and I have valued those friendships above all else in my life.
It’s almost impossible to know when an acquaintance will become a friend. It is equally impossible to actively seek a friendship. Finding these kinds of relationships is as serendipitous as winning the lottery. “You pays your money and you takes your chances.” The one constant in acquiring friendship is the willingness to take a chance, to be yourself, and to be open. There are no guarantees that following that logic will yield results, however, doing so will at least make succeeding a possibility. The rest is up to fate.
Yesterday, I took a small step (actually 15, 791 actual steps) along the path to friendship. My neighbor of nearly thirteen years and I went hiking in nearby Dupont Forest. Prior to my stroke in October of 2015, we had barely exchanged more than a word or two in the eleven years we had lived as neighbors. But as time progressed, we began to see more and more of each other as we passed by during our daily separate walks. Gradually, we began to stop and chat. Then, the chats became conversations.
Earlier this week, I called to ask him if he’d like to join me for a walk. I left a message on his voice mail, but didn’t hear back that day. To my surprise, however, the following afternoon, he rang my doorbell and invited me to go hiking. We agreed upon a day and time, and yesterday we went. In the three or so hours that we were together, a light seemed to come on. Conversation ran the gamut from where we had grown up (he in rural North Carolina, I in the city of Brooklyn) to what foods were our favorites. To my surprise, I learned that we both love sardines. Could a mutual affinity for tiny fish be the recipe for friendship? Hard to say. But it’s a start.
Life is unpredictable, but that has never stood in my way of enjoying it. In fact, it’s what makes it so interesting. My neighbor and I are planning another hike next week, and I already know what I’m bringing with me. Sardines. If you’ve never tried them, let me recommend the King Oscar brand packed in olive oil. They cost three times what most others cost, but they’re worth it. Just make sure you get the ones marked “two layers.” Those are the kind I prefer and the kind I’ll be sharing with my neighbor and possible new friend. Hey, you never know!