Learning how to be friends

Helping each other

Helping each other

Elisa and Nicole got me thinking about friendship today.

About the work of deepening into friendship.  The time it takes to really know another person.  The challenging of really ever getting to know another person.

It seems that we speak the same language, doesn’t it? Yet, so often we don’t speak the same language.  A word that means something to you means something different to me.  Our beliefs are different.  We can each be using totally different words and concepts to express the same thing.  Or maybe we’re using similar words and concepts but we’re light years apart in understanding.

What births a friendship?  Two people seem to like one another.  There’s a spark, a similarity  perhaps a recognition.  The two feel intrigued.  They want to learn more.

Playing together

Playing together

Friendships often stay at the level of acquaintances, casual friends, passersby.  We don’t (for any number of reasons) begin the work of nurturing, questioning, staying present.

If Life or happenstance decrees we sometimes do begin the work of exploring deeper with our friend.  We find out the many different parts of the other person.  We struggle or play with language.  We find where we agree and disagree.  We learn, oh we learn, how to be friends especially in that area of disagreement.

Where two or three are gathered...

Where two or three are gathered…

My friend, Melinda, and I deepened in friendship starting in 1999.  We met at a spiritual retreat in the foothills of the mountains in Montana.  We were setting up our tents and camping equipment.  I looked over and saw a California hippy chick struggling with her sleeping bag zipper.  She looked over and saw a Michigan housewife and asked for assistance. That’s where it all began.

For years we forged a common language.  Even something as simple as the word “spirit” had to be examined.  We talked about the word dream, the word love, the word life.  We built a language in friendship, finally, finally, understanding what the other meant.

Years passed.  We laughed, we talked, we cried, we argued.  Yes we argued!  We even quit speaking for a while.  More than once.  Yet something larger than each of us persevered in understanding.

Kathy and Melinda

Kathy and Melinda

Friendship can be like a marriage.  It demands continual vigilance, communication, silence, space, forgiveness.

I’ve experienced this with other friends as well.  Friends who have moved past the casual state of getting-to-know into deeper connection.

What does take to build a friendship?  Presence.  Being there for your friend.  Being willing to listen.  Being willing to suspend judgment (even if part of your mind judges, as it will so often.)

My friend, Catherine

My friend, Catherine

I used to think that I wanted friendship with everyone in the world.  (Except for a few people whom we won’t mention here.)  However, I’ve grown to recognize that as impossible.  A person usually only has the time and inclination to be deep friends with a handful of folks.  Otherwise, we’re not really present.  We’re spreading ourselves too thin.  We’re not allowing the compost of time and commitment to nurture this capacity to be deeply available for another person over the long term.

What have you learned about being a true friend?  Do you have any advice to share?

Here is a small poem I wrote yesterday.  It addresses what a true friend eventually discovers about us:



What can’t be said

What isn’t said in our blogs…in our lives…

What isn’t said.

So much is omitted, neglected, purposefully not shared.

We won’t embarrass our family, our friends.  We won’t speak what can’t be spoken.

It might disturb someone we love.

It might disturb ourselves.

It might not be appropriate.

It might be wrong.

It might be.

Look at that face.  You just wanna be friends, don't you?

Look at that face. You just wanna be friends, don’t you?

I think of the blogs I could have written.  Filled with my truth.  My surmising   My conjecturing.

But would it be truer than, say, a sunrise in late winter?  Would my opinion be truer than yours?

We choose what to share.

We choose what may benefit either ourselves or others.

Sometimes we succeed.

Other times–well, not as much.

Building blocks of friendship

Building blocks of friendship

What isn’t said lurks behind words.  It plays hide-n-seek.  It shares our disappointments, our suffering, our shouldas, wouldas, couldas.

What isn’t said sometimes expresses ourselves more than what we choose to share.

You never–ever–know a person until you know what isn’t said.

Until you know what she doesn’t write, what she doesn’t type, what is omitted in the name of God or country or personal salvation or keeping-the-peace.

Yet I won’t write about what can’t–yet–be spoken.  What is incubating.  What is turning to compost.  What is still seeking silence, or is forced to silence, or what refuses naked revelation.

Don’t suspect that you know any of us.

Not until you know what isn’t said.

What can’t be said.


Good friends.

Good friends.

May we all know a friend like that in our lifetime.  A friend who listens beneath our words and truly wants to understand us.  A friend who deeply strives to hear what can never be expressed except in shadows and half-truths and longings for communication and connection.

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in March 2013 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Learning how to be friends

  1. Brenda Hardie says:

    Kathy, this is a beautiful post and I especially love your last paragraph—it speaks to my heart. Sometimes, there are no words and sometimes words don’t need to be spoken and in that stillness we just know….we feel….who our true friends are ❤

  2. It was awesome talking to you! And what a great blog,

    Much love,


  3. Brenda Hardie says:

    Kathy, I just clicked over from my email and it worked fine! 🙂

  4. Joanne says:

    Kathy, I’m yet again speechless at your insight! I don’t know how you do it, but so often you have managed to write the words of a feeling that is in my heart. Yet, before I read your words I had no idea that those feelings were there.

    You know who my ultimate friend is, the one who I thought of as I read your words? One who I wasn’t even thinking about this morning, yet you described our relationship completely. My sister, Anne. Anne is gone now, yet during her life as my sister we were in constant battle, yet we were each others strongest allies. She was the one who I could speak the unspoken words to.

    My advice about friendship? Don’t ever take your friends for granted, as one day you may meet with them and have to say goodbye to them forever. And it will tear your heart out.

    See what you do Kathy? Now I am writing unwritable words….thank you, my friend.

  5. lisaspiral says:

    I think there is a talent to finding those good friends. I think that it requires not only being able to be present and listen but also to be willing to be open and vulnerable enough that your can also learn about your silences. I believe you have that skill and that is part of the reason you have been so blessed in your friendships. Beautiful piece.

  6. bonnie says:

    What a beautiful blog, Kathy, and poem. Friends….even one friend who knows you and accepts you for who you are beneath all the blather, is more precious than gold.

  7. Elisa says:

    OH YES!! amazing! I wish that I could tell you what the grin says on my face. I would like to announce that this is very good talking! Tomorrow or in a moment, I might call it something else! 😛

  8. P.j. grath says:

    “Friendship can be like a marriage.” That rings very true to my experience. I was in my 30s before I realized that true, deep friendship is not simple at all, that it is very complicated and changes over time, just as does a marriage or just as do relationships with family members. Another thought I had while reading the early paragraphs of this post is that Jane Austen’s books have a lot to do with friendship, its limitations, its depths, its complications and cross-purposes and rewards. And yes, there is a lot that goes unsaid in my blogs! But from time to time it gets said to a close friend, and for me that’s the right choice.

  9. Susan D says:

    Such a treasure of a blog, Kathy. There is so much here to ponder. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I don’t say and what others don’t say .. because if it’s true for me, it’s true for us all. And here you are .. expressing it with the beautiful, poignant song of your poem … it catches in my heart.

    Fleeting expressions, a sadness in the eyes, an “almost” speaking left unspoken .. tiny delicate signs that pass between friends. You read them well. You draw out the unspoken. And you wrap naked revelations in your soft blanket of unconditional love and acceptance. Because you are …

  10. A true friend, one who loves you for just being YOU, for standing by you no matter what, one who laughs and cries with you, and who takes as much as she gives – that is a TREMENDOUS gift that not all are lucky enough to receive. My goal is to be a true friend throughout my life. I’m still working at it!

  11. Lori D says:

    Got me thinking about my friends, two in particular. None of them live near me, unfortunately. I miss them. Thanks for the beautiful thoughts and the poem on friendship. I related well.

  12. So true we have limited emotional capacity as well as time to cultivate true friendships, but it does not mean we cannot develop new meaningful relationships as we move through different stages of life. As I get older, my female friendships become increasingly important to me, as much as I love my housemates of testosterone 🙂 ~ Kat

  13. Kathy, you hit on something that’s been on my mind too! I have a very dear friend and we recently went through some troubles. I was very disturbed by it and I think she was too. So we started talking and we both know for certain our friendship is important and is not to be taken for granted. Thanks for the beautiful poem and thoughts. I’m sending this to my friend!

  14. OM says:

    Oh my oh my. My response is to rest quietly inside my heart and contemplate the friends who are there, and the ones who were there alive and are now there in memory, and the ones who might be, or will be, there.
    So beautiful. Thank you, Kathy.

  15. Claire says:

    This makes me think of some new people I have met over the last 10 years often starting with a coffee and how one friendship has grown into a close sharing friendship. A special friend met at an evening class. Lovely thought provoking post.

  16. Kathy – Your observation…

    “A person usually only has the time and inclination to be deep friends with a handful of folks. Otherwise, we’re not really present. We’re spreading ourselves too thin. We’re not allowing the compost of time and commitment to nurture this capacity to be deeply available for another person over the long term.”

    …is a perfect description of what I’ve experienced to date (55 years) as it relates to friendship.

    I LOVE (capital letters) your poem and the delicious photos you sprinkled throughout this post.

  17. debyemm says:

    I agree “Friendship can be like a marriage. It demands continual vigilance, communication, silence, space, forgiveness.” Thank you for being a friend.

  18. Dana says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that it is all about quality vs quantity when it comes to friends. When I was younger, I wanted to be popular and have a ton of friends. Now, I’m content to nurture those few (but deep) relationships I have. Thank you again for your wonderful insights, Kathy.

  19. dorannrule says:

    This post is truly special Kathy because it digs deep into the meaning of true friendship, and what it takes to get there. My oldest friend is from 7th grade and we connect now the same way we did when we were 11 years old.

  20. Karma says:

    Ah, here’s the woulda, coulda, shoulda you referenced the other day. While I do believe true friends understand so much about us, I am not convinced that we don’t truly know someone without knowing what goes unsaid. I believe we have “unsaids” that we don’t wish to burden others with, but those unsaids aren’t always truly necessary for understanding and friendship. I’d like to think there are parts of me that are really just for me! 🙂

  21. Sid Dunnebacke says:

    Kathy, this is remarkably attuned to what I’ve discovered recently, in the form of a friend. A friend who, because of circumstances, I was allowed the privilege of learning just the kind of thing you’re talking about here. And I know how lucky I am.

  22. Lovely tribute to friendship!

  23. Heather says:

    Beautifully written. I think you can measure a good friend by willingness to work at the relationship, because it *is* like marriage. I am thankful to have cultivated a few good friends and many acquaintances. It’s knowing when to let one pass into the other that is difficult.

  24. sybil says:

    I used to have a sign on my desk that said “Be sure brain is in gear, before mouth is in motion”. My good friends love me in spite of the fact that I seldom follow that good advice.

    I am so very lucky because I DO have good friends. I didn’t always. For a long time my folks were my best friends. After they died, I set about finding friends. There was a girl at work that I “clicked with”. I actually ASKED her if she had enough friends or needed one. Even offered her $5 to be my friend. She offered me the same amount back. So we called it even.

    Two of my good friends here in Nova Scotia, started as Blogger friends. They’re now my bested chums.

    Sorry … what was the question ?

  25. Reggie says:

    Stunned into silence again… such beautiful, insightful words, Kathy.

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s