I sat at my desk, head down, long hair hiding my face. On the blue folder in front of me, in Catholic-school cursive, I wrote the word miserable over and over again, covering the folder in a graphite cri de couer, addressed to no one in particular.
I was in the 8th grade, and my best friend had—as I saw it–abandoned me. The visceral memory of those friendless days still hurts, decades later. Being friendless in grade school meant being picked last in gym class, going partnerless for class room activities, sitting alone at lunch.
I’d enjoyed the company of a succession of what they now call BFFs from the time I started Montessori school at three until that point. I’d counted on having that one person who liked me best. After that heartbreaking half year (until high school began and I landed in a close circle of friends), I never wanted to feel loneliness like that again.
My last year of high school, I couldn’t bear the thought of going to college, so much did I dread leaving my friends, so deeply was my very identity wrapped up in them. But of course I did make new friends in college, and found a husband to boot.
After that there came work friends, and mom friends, and church friends, and these days internet friends. But I still carry that 8th grade woundedness, the feeling of rejection. I still long for a friend who likes me best of all.
Last weekend I traveled to Chicago with my sister, on a spur-of-the-moment whirlwind adventure: she had tickets to an event and her husband was unable to accompany her. We had many hours of driving which meant many hours of uninterrupted conversation, something our kids rarely permit; and so I shared this feeling with her by grandiosely announcing: “I don’t have any friends.”
Encouragingly, she reminded me of my first-grade bestie whom I hung out with in May at my son’s graduation, of the high school friend whom I don’t see as often as I’d like but who would drop anything if I needed her, of my college roommate with whom we spent an entire week last summer. And I remembered on my own the friend from my husband’s law school days who drove six hours round trip to bring us a trailer full of bedroom furniture when our house burned down, even though we hadn’t seen her in ten years; and my many, many online friends, some of whom I’ve known for close to twenty years.
My friendships today look different from the exclusive best friend, tell-each-other-everything, talk-on-the-phone-all-night friendships I miss, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real and valuable. Above all, they are long-lasting and faithful. It’s not that I don’t still pine for a Lucy-Ethel or Wilma-Betty type of friendship, but I need to remember not to let my vision of perfect be the enemy of the good that I possess.
Sirach 6:14-12 (RSVCE)
14 A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
15 There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
16 A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him.