For the Week of November 8, 2015: Friends: They’re Good for Us

A friend is someone who likes you.
It can be a boy…
It can be a girl…

These are the opening pages to Joan Walsh Anglund’s beloved little book, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, first published in 1958, one that sat on my parents’ coffee table for years, one I read aloud to my fourth grade class the first year I taught.  I still have a copy of Anglund’s book on my shelves, because no matter our age or stage in life, we all need friends, whether in good times or bad.

I’m grateful for my friends; they enrich my life.  Last weekend, my husband I spent the afternoon with my dear friend, Lynn, someone I met in high school, roomed with in college, and who, twenty-six years ago, married the two of us.  This past weekend, after leading a day long workshop for medical faculty and students at Stanford, I spent Saturday evening with another of my dear friends, Gingie.  Since I moved to San Diego a few years ago, the opportunities to have time together have diminished, yet although we hadn’t been together for a couple of years, time was no barrier.  When she greeted me at her door, we immediately fell into the warmth and easy conversation between us.

A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow. – William Shakespeare

Although I spent my childhood in one small town, my adult life has been punctuated by several moves: I’ve lived in California and Canada, on the east coast and the west, and yet, many of my long ago friendships remain.  When I grouse about how many times we’ve changed residences, I remind myself how rich my life is, due in large part to my enduring friendships with people scattered around the world.  These are people who stuck by me during difficult chapters of my life, showed up when I least expected it, embraced and welcomed me when I felt most alone.

To this day, I have enduring affection for a group of people in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, who gave their love and support to my daughters and me in the wake of my husband’s drowning.  I think of other times:  breast cancer, heart failure, a daughter’s miscarriage, and I remember how my friends showed up at the door with food, flowers or words of support, easing the heartache, lending a shoulder to lean on when needed.

We all need friends.  Isolation and loneliness are often harbingers of emotional or physical illness.  Friendship, according to Rebecca Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships. Better health, a more positive outlook, longer lifespan and more hopeful attitude towards life are just some of the benefits of friendship.

“What Are Friends For?  A Longer Life,” the title of a New York Times article published in 2009, cited a ten-year study of older people which found those having a large circle of friends were less likely to die during the study than those with fewer friends.  Strong social ties have been proven to have other benefits too, like promoting brain health as we age.   In a 2006 study of nurses with breast cancer, the women without close friends were four times more likely to die from their cancer than those with ten or more friends.  Another interesting finding was that proximity and amount of contact were less important than simply having friends.   Having multiple friendships, as a six-year study of 736 Swedish men demonstrated, helped lower the risk of heart attack and coronary heart disease than simply having attachment to only a one person.  We need our friends.  Remember Bette Midler’s song from her 1972 album, The Divine Miss M?  I can practically hear her belting the lyrics out now:

But you got to have friends.
The feeling’s oh so strong.
You got to have friends
to make that day last long.

I’ll say.  The good thing about friends, Brian Jones writes in his poem, “About Friends,” is not having to finish sentences.  That’s one of the most delightful things I experience  when I’m with my friends.  We share experiences, laughter, meals together, our deepest feelings and convictions.  We’re real with one another.  Friends not only make my life happier and richer; they’ve shown up to lend a hand or offer comfort when I’ve needed it, as I have done for them.  With old friends, we share history, stories of the past; we remember who we were then, all those years ago.   I returned home from Silicon Valley today, grateful for the enjoyment of the workshop and being able to share an evening with a friend.  Bette Midler was right.

But you got to have friends.
The feeling’s oh so strong.
You got to have friends
to make that day last long.


Writing Suggestion:

Write about friendship this week, about having—perhaps even losing—friends.  When have friends made a difference in your life?  How?  You can even begin with the phrase, “A friend is someone who…”  Without a doubt, your friends make your life a little better.  Write about friendship.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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