I never realized how much my true friends — those who have been with me through tears and laughter, anxiety and joy, soaring highs and crashing lows — meant to me until recently.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about what true friendship is, and how often we as a society casually through around words like friendship and love and loyalty and commitment. Many people say these are part of their core values. But how often do people really show love and kindness to each other?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I worked as a social worker in downtown Flint. Flint was ravaged by the loss of General Motors and the income it had generated and was hit hard by Michigan's recession. Many people were unemployed and I would often be approached by people asking for money. I had been forewarned by my co-workers not to give money to beggars because they most likely would spend it on alcohol and/or drugs.
Sometimes I did give beggars money. Sometimes I didn't. I wasn't very consistent in practicing one of my core values — kindness toward others. Sometimes I would give someone money and later kick myself, feeling that I just fed a drug or alcohol habit. Other times I wouldn't give someone money and later berate myself for being so selfish.
I was judging people without knowing all the facts. I had no idea if the person was an alcoholic or drug addict. I couldn't tell by how the person looked — if I lived on the streets or in a shelter, I'd look pretty rough too.
Now I wish I would have given every person who had asked at least a dollar or two. Without hesitation. Without thought. Without judging.
What does this have to do with friendship? I have learned my true friends are ones who have stood by me, particularly after I developed anorexia. Several friends have since told me that they have been frightened for me; frightened when I was so thin and yet insisted nothing was wrong. Finally I received treatment and slowly regained weight and returned to life.
Then I relapsed and saw it all fall apart starting in January.
Yet none of these friends abandoned me. None of them judged me. All of them continued to call and invite me out for coffee or dinner, knowing I might just nibble at a salad. Each one encouraged me to try harder and seek more intensive treatment as my weight began to once again plummet, even though several of them were facing severe problems of their own (including unemployment and the threat of home foreclosure.)
I called my one friend, Michelle, the other day and she started crying after hearing I was eating again. She confessed that she thought I was going to die and she knew what she was talking about — Michelle beat anorexia and bulimia after decades of struggle. I assured her I was eating again as she gulped back tears — for me! I sometimes forget how loved I am by so many wonderful people.
Tomorrow begins my fifth week at the River Centre Clinic. I have been lonely there; it takes time for me to make friends and I miss this wonderful group of people who have stood by me for years and surrounded me with their love, prayers and hope for my recovery.
This world might think everything happens instantaneously. But I have learned — with some pain and hurt — that true friendship takes time. Two people meet, start talking with each other and then begin sharing a history. True friendship is like a strong tree with deep roots which has been watered with tears and laughter through the years.
Not every person who seems to be a friend is one. Not every beggar is an alcoholic or drug addict. These past four weeks have taught me to cherish my friends, save my trust for those who have earned it and not judge people by their outward appearance. Some of the most physically beautiful people in the world can be toxic and dangerous for my recovery, while a beggar wearing the dirtiest rags could be an angel whom you "entertain unaware."
"If you are judging someone, you have no time to love them" - Mother Theresa of Calcutta