Sunday, February 14, 2010

Joy of Friendship

"A friend is someone who, while leaving you with all your dignity intact, obliges you to be fully who you are."

I can't cite the source of that quote, but remember reading it on a bookmark about twenty years ago. At the time I was a recently returned ex-pat (from my college year abroad) dealing with culture shock: No, there is no café-style night life in my home state, nothing like the expansive boulevards, ancient hidden plazas and sparkling evenings of tapas and copas* with sophisticated bohemians that I'd found in Madrid.

Suddenly, I was just another college senior in a big university, one who hadn’t a clue as to what she would do next. But Uncle Bill invited me in to his home, essentially rent-free, in exchange for cleaning up after his cat and accompanying him to cheap Chinese restaurants in downtown Oakland.

Plus, we talked. “You should always eat right,” he admonished me, after witnessing my dysfunctional college diet of donuts, coffee and whiskey. Exam time usually put me into a panic, and Bill provided me with an anchor, discussing my studies with me. I took the bus to the campus from his tiny Montclair bungalow, which had been his family home since the 30’s. He had a girlfriend, and occasionally he’d be out all night, a mischievous sparkle in his good eye the following day.

He is the one who gave me that bookmark, and who asked me if I was on track to live up to my potential, the first adult to do so, endorsing what has become a life-long process of questioning myself on this point.

Who can live without friends? Who can grow without love? Friendship can have a sweet, short arc, or be spiritual ballast for decades.

My friends have taught me how to cook, how to dance, how to love. By example, they've taught me self-love. They’ve shown me how to laugh when the chips are down, how to work smart, how to play like nothing else matters. I have risen to many challenges in my life because I have received the love and grace of my friends, and I want to be in a position to give that back. Shared laughter in friendship is pure joy.

Which brings us to Kipling and Vinnie, pictured above. Two funny guys who have found each other, and who have many daily loving rituals. Animal friendship is not to be discounted, as it inspires us to join their world: the eternal present.

Every morning petite and pugnacious Vinnie trots over from his house to my bedroom door, looking for Kipling. “Time to come out and play!” he says, or, “It’s a beautiful morning, let’s go for a walk,” and sometimes, simply, “What’s for breakfast, dude?”

They’ll roll in the grass, wrestle with each other, mark territory everywhere (first one, then the other) and generally have a good time. They’re constantly together, and never seem to be bored. Mostly they’re quiet, other times Kip will patrol the perimeter of the property and Vinnie will bark his little-dog head off. Acceptance, companionship and play, essential requirements for any good friendship.

Uncle Bill understood animal friendship, too. He's the only person I've ever known to train a cat: his would sit up on command and beg for bits of food. He gave a puppy to his nephew (my step-Dad) and this story causes everyone's eyes to well with tears, because Uncle Bill left us too soon. He reminded us that life can end suddenly, in an unexpected way, making those guiding words we say to each other, and our loving gestures, more poignant.

There is a beautiful urgency in what one soul gives to another through friendship, this loving permission to be ourselves. We find a powerful treasure when we are fully who we are.

*copas = cocktails, of course!

Photos by Linda Sonrisa


Lisa G. said...

This might be my favorite post by you, ever. I love you, my friend Linda.

aengus said...

You cook?
Always a smart ass,but forever a friend.
Love waking up to early and going out to take a bath[love the new photo eating grapes] and finding a new `linda blog`. Comforting knowing i have such great firends.
As far as animals go,Monkey and myself now have the mornings light on us,as we have been waiting patiently for it`s glorious arrival.Oh,he just attacked should see this guy,he is sooooo cute.And hungry,apperently,as a group of 6 Robins,did you say robins.landed on a tall redwood right above us
love you tons A