How are you?” It’s a greeting as well as question, probably spoken millions of times every day. Others may express it differently, but the intention and significance are the same. Such expressions break down barriers and invite or consolidate unity—possibly leading to genuine friendship, something the human heart seeks. It’s a truism that people need people.
Friendship is something that billions of dollars cannot buy. It’s exchanged freely as a gift; a treasure available to any who actively seek it, and it is priceless. As the old proverb goes, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Or how about this one? “It’s not that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but it’s your best friends who are your diamonds.”
It is my good fortune to possess “diamonds” who live nearby and also in lands across the globe, for true friendship is not limited by nationality, colour or creed. Apart from our humanity and some similarities of interests and character, my friends and I are not identical, yet there is a bond between us. So I’m glad when we meet or exchange emails, messages or “snail mail” letters.
Friends accept me as I am; they can make me smile or laugh. Sometimes we share deep sadness when a mutual friend’s journey on Planet Earth ends. Often I am awed by a friend’s insight. “No man is an island,” as the Christian poet John Donne pointed out in 1624. Friendship can overcome borders and boundaries while bringing harmony and happiness, enriching life and recognising the value of each human soul.
My longest friendship has been with Betty who lives in New Zealand. We went to Sunday School together when we were four years old, to primary and high school, to Girls Life Brigade camps and to church. Now we mostly talk about books we have read. Betty is not just one of my “acquaintances”—those I-can-get-along-without-you people I respect, but with whom there is little rapport. No, she is part of the fabric of my individuality.
Nell, from Tasmania, has been my close friend and confidante for 70 years. On my desk stands a card from her that says, “Whatever souls are made of, yours and mine are the same.” It depicts two young girls doing acrobatics. That is still us, (metaphorically!) cartwheeling our way through life, up, over and sideways through challenges.
Mie Mie was born in Myanmar, studied in Thailand and, although her mother tongue is not English, graduated with Master’s degree in Britain. I have never known anyone who works and studies so diligently, who values time and is so appreciative of kindness. Although our friendship began when I was her teacher some 18 years ago, in her maturity she teaches me.
JoAn lives in the United States, as does Suhas, his sisters and his wife, Mary, who’s originally from India. We share a past, often the foundation of lasting friendships.
“Nothing makes the earth so spacious as to have friends at a distance; that makes the latitudes and longitudes,” said Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century poet and philosopher.
I have not mentioned friends in my Dorset village, here in the UK, but they are there, two of them living in traditional English thatched-roof cottages. They came in their gumboots with soup, bread and smiles during a week of snow in winter. One is a churchgoer; one is not—both of them have a special place in my heart.
The ready-steady-go mark of friendship can begin with a handshake, a look of understanding, a personal need, a conversation you can never forget, a shared joke or serious moment. Real friendship, however, is always a two-way highway. I give, my friend receives, and vice versa. It takes generosity of spirit, thoughtfulness and faithfulness. We help each other grow in personhood.
As I write, I have beside me a huge pile of pages from my computer printer—all emails written to my husband when he suffered a terminal disease that needed five years of nursing home and palliative care. He probably received at least 250 of these encouraging messages from his long-term friend, who scarcely missed a week. The writer wrote Bible-based messages that spoke to John’s heart. Here are a few:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). The friend added, “And Marye and John will be there,” thus supporting me as well. He also wrote to me, “Tell John that all memories of him encourage me. He has been and is a great blessing to me and I love him.”
On yet another day he wrote to John, “I think of you so often and pray for you, but how I wish I lived nearer and could walk with you or sit with you. I love you, my dear friend. How much more does He whose name is Love. I am always your friend and brother.” He was a friend indeed; one who, when he visited, lay on the bed beside my husband as if to share his suffering.
The ancient Book of wisdom tells me that “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly, but there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, KJ21*)—that verse can also be read with feminine characters. The One who longs to stick closer to the human heart than anyone else is He who came to Earth to reveal to everyone what God is like; who died to save sinners from eternal death. Putting Himself in their place; their Friend.
When I was a little girl I used to sing, “Jesus, Friend of little children, be a Friend to me. Take my hand and ever lead me close to Thee.” Today I sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.” Some years ago, Scottish bagpipers made this song a world-famous chart topper. In my mind I still hear the wail of those pipes; it sounds like the sadness our world is now experiencing as terrorism and fear increase.
The Bible reminds us that “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). When we are unafraid, being friendly comes easily, and intimate friendship with God surpasses any other. It is one that I long for our sad world to share. It is priceless.
Marye Trim is a keen writer who has lived and worked in different countries around the world. She currently lives in Dorset, United Kingdom.
* Verses marked KJ21 are used with permission from the 21st Century King James Version, copyright 1994, Deuel Enterprises, Inc, Gary, South Dakota.