On The Importance of Friendship

Friendship has been on my mind lately.  In the past week, I’ve experienced the powerful and painful affects of friendship.  The other night my walking friends (we used to be running friends) met together on a friend’s deck to catch up on summer news.  The evening was exhilarating:  great women, good food good wine, good mosquito repellent.  It was a Wednesday night and way past our bedtimes, but we couldn’t quit talking.  Although I only got a few hours of sleep that night, I felt unusually energetic and loving the next day.  My patients received the best of care that day as I pondered on the benefits of friendship.  No wonder friendship and exercise are highly-rated in the prevention of physical and mental illnesses.  There was a wind beneath my wings for the next few days that I attributed to the strong sense of connection and care that exists between my walking friends and me.

On the other end of the spectrum, I met with a friend yesterday who needed to talk about the ill effects of friendship.  She has gone through very difficult times in the past few years, including single parenting. She felt sadly abandoned by her friends (me included) during this time.  She confided that a friend is a person who sees a need and steps up to fill it; she didn’t know if she had any friends.  Needless to say, this person sees friendship as a contribution to a feeling of alienation and depression in her life.

In the Celtic tradition, according to the Irish poet John O’Donohue, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship.  He talks about it in his book Anam Cara.  Anam is the Gaelic name for “soul” and Cara is the word for “friend.”  In early Celtic practice, a person who acted as a teacher or a companion was called an anam cara.  It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed the hidden intimacies of your life.  With the anam cara, you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart.  This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging.  In everyone’s life, there is a great need  for an anam cara, a soul friend.  In this love, you are understood as you are, without a mask or any pretension.  Where you are understood, you are at home.  We live in a time when many people believe that they don’t have time for the development of friendship.  But if you realize how vital to your whole spirit and being, character, mind and health a caring relationship actually is – you will take time for it.

So I think that it would be great to step back a little from one’s life and look around: who are the ones that hold me dear, that truly see me and who are the ones that I care about, what are their needs at a given moment.  Sometimes we can even use the modern multi-tasking to accomplish true friendship:  we walk together and talk, or we cook together and talk.

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