I have a lot of friends.  I have friends from school. I have friends from work. I have friends from church. I have friends in my family. I have friends in other countries. I have friends who are dead. I have friends who are not but pretend to be. I have friends who are fun, and I have some other friends who are friends because they aren’t fun. I have friends who I meet for a tête-à-tête at Starbucks, and I have friends who add me on Facebook.

By friends I mean a lot of different things, as we all do — people we got drunk with in high school but now have nothing in common with, a checker at Costco whose line we often choose, people who dabble in what we also waste time on, people who “get us” and leggo-people who used to get us but have now snapped off and don’t, furry friends — our cats and dogs, friends who we keep on call by the bedside — our favorite dead poets, painters, novelists or philosophers, and lastly and most importantly, our real friends, the cherished soul-mates who hang on through it all and just won’t let go, like Taylor in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Pigs in Heaven, who won’t let go of little Turtle —  the mythic, profoundly archetypal lost child, “six pigs in heaven and the mother who wouldn’t let go.”  This is it, the core of it, the will-not-let-go friend.

I’ve told my daughters, trying to help them with the vagueness and occasional hurtfulness of the thing, “There are lots of kinds of friends, all kinds of levels and layers and lunacy. Enjoy them all.” It’s hard. Friendship is a garage that we throw a lot of different stuff in, and some of the stuff gets lost and some gets found again and then lost for good, but, “No,” found for good again.  Crazy!

Whatever the “How To” books tell us, friendship certainly isn’t something we can control — much. People will make their choices. They will do what they will do or not do, and what they don’t do will perhaps kick us in the head the most. Martin Luther King said it, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

King’s observation is clever, provocative, probably garnered in the civil-rights trenches and brutal, when it happens to you. Plain and simple: People — when things get messy — will shut up —  way too much! They won’t ask, and they won’t want you to tell.

Silence is the most eloquent monologue of indifference. Something happens. Silence.  More silence. Wow! It is singularly dysfunctional.

And then there are the friends who in the wars, switch sides and become the enemies. Funny how that works, “Et tu, Brute?”  Samuel Butler quipped that “Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.”

One feeds the chickens until one day — boom. Get out the crock pot, “I love my chicken falling off the bone.” And in a like manner, one man feeds the psyche of another man, until, one day, bam. “Strike three! You’re out!”

It happens. Life goes on. Time shows friendships, real and not. I’ll take the real, even with the not thrown in, the hurley burley of it all, the rough and tumble, the in and then out, it’s worth it. I love my friends. I love the people who love me. And the ones who no longer love me  make the ones who still do, seem sweeter yet.  

Someone once said, “A friend is someone who will help you move. A real friend is someone who will help you move a body.”

“Come on, help me hoist these cold, clammy bodies, buddy. Let’s move ‘em out.”

“Nice work! Hey, will you kick that foot sticking out of the closet back in so I can shut the door?”


“Thanks, friend.”

  1. Pat says:

    There is a lot of pain showing through in this essay. I hope that many more of your friends are the kind who believe in the adage “To have a friend, be one”, than the kind who think friendship is a receiving thing, and never give in return. I admit to being a poor friend. I love being with my friends, but I haven’t worked enough on initiating the invitations into my life. It is a fault I struggle with, opening my life more and worrying less about how people perceive me or whether I’m doing something wrong. The best friendships are the ones where you can be transparent and they love you anyway. That’s the kind of friend I want to have; that’s the kind of friend I want to be.

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