Relationships that develop into real and enduring friendships are the most profound expression of our deepest human quality. It’s the manifestation of the characteristics of freedom and esteem; it answers our soul’s most desperate yearning for connection to each other.
As children we gravitate to others on the basis of proximity. Neighborhood kids, fellow bus travellers, children of our parent’s friends provide a wealth of opportunity. There is little magic or chemistry in this equation – most often it happens because of a certain amount of intentionality.
When we attend school and develop into young adults, we begin to decide for ourselves who we will seek out in our world, whose company we will cherish, which characteristics we crave connection to, and most importantly, which identity we will create for ourselves which will invite an intimacy that could blossom into friendship.
If we are lucky some of the friendships made when young will carry over into our adult life. These are the relationships we have nurtured, and which have witnessed and endured more changes in ourselves than we can often bear to acknowledge. If we are intentioned (and do the type of work which brings people of like sensibilities together) we make friends in the workplace. Perhaps this is due to these production-oriented times in which we live: we find ourselves in our offices for as many hours in the day as we are at home with our families.
The devastating reality for people with disabilities and those living on the margins of community; who are deeply embedded in service delivery systems, is that the natural ebb and flow of life passages (which facilitate friendships), has often been denied and has left people isolated and terribly alone.
We are defined most significantly by our relationships with others. Unlike the families we are born into, friendships – ones, which are real and withstand our foibles – are completely of our own making. They belong to each of us alone. They reflect who we are, who we wish we were, and allow us to remember our value in the universe. Someone once said, “love and family is blind, but friendship, thankfully, closes its eyes.” I know I am worthy of goodness, grace and affection because I have those in my life whom I have chosen and whom have chosen me.
What if that was not the case? What of lives which are defined by what is perceived as most broken, what most desperately appears to need fixing, and whose days exists in a world of supports, paid companionship, and within (in spite of best intentions) an environment which reinforces isolation and soul crushing loneliness.
Friendship is a fickle flower. It needs tending and nurturing. The soil conditions need to be right, the light adequate but not glaring, and (a fact that is little known) it requires a sheer force of will. Things grow best in the wild. You only need to taste hothouse tomatoes from cellophane and compare it to a field tomato still warm from the sun to understand the difference.
Real lives and real friendships happen in the real world. They happen in high school classrooms and elementary gymnasiums, in offices, at the post office at tax time, in churches and in babysitting co-ops. The chemistry evolves in driveways between houses, and across children’s soccer fields, in art classes and at the YWCA.
The soil is fertile here. It’s rich and it’s real, and the sun warms it.
You can get a tomato grown in a green house, but this one tastes so much better.