Rooms 201-205: Be a Better Friend
Tend to the Garden
“Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief”
For every Oprah, there’s a Gayle. For every Batman, Ernie and Yogi, there is a Robin, Bert and Boo-Boo—a friend who gets us. Someone who will encourage us one minute and call us on our bullshit the next. Someone we can count on in tough times and will be there to share the good times. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s one of the great blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
Choose the right friend and you can drop your guard, stop shaving and forget the makeup. They not only know who you are, ugly nose hairs and all, but they like and appreciate you for it. When times get tough, you can always count on them, like Thelma and Louise driving happily off the cliff.
Of course, the flipside of having good friends is that they don’t always stick around. Friends come and go. They move away, go to different schools, change careers, get married, have children, get busy, change priorities, lose their way. And sometimes, friends just grow apart.
You turn around one day and realize, without a couple bottles of wine, you have nothing in common with the friend sitting across from you.
However, there are also times when we lose friends, not to the ebb and flow of life events, but to our own laziness and apathy, or even worse, to the minutiae of life. We’re too busy or tired, and when we have to get up early in the morning, quite frankly, pajamas and a rerun of Mad Men is a lot easier than picking up a phone.
Friendship has to be to be fought for, worked at, and finessed. And while we certainly don’t have the same time and energy to spend on friends as we did when we were younger, if we don’t nourish something, it withers away.
In other words, friendship is a garden that needs to be cared for and tended. This is why our room for the week is to put on our gardening gloves, grab the hoe and get dirty. We’re going to walk into a new room. A new garden.
Rooms 201-205: Be a Better Friend
Tend to the Garden
All the horticultural knowledge I have on the subject of friendship comes down to these five bits of gardening wisdom.
1. Get Rid of the Unfriendly Weeds
“When you choose your friends, don't be short-changed by choosing personality over character.”
W. Somerset Maugham
I know everybody wants to go right in and start planting rose bushes. But, let’s be real. If the garden is overgrown, it’s almost impossible for something new to grow.
Solution? Go get yourself a giant weed whacker and start mowing down all those unwanted friends that keep popping back into your life. Yes, it’s an ugly job, but it has to be done.
You can be kind and compassionate when you do it, but whack those weeds just the same. No, not the whole garden. A few barren shrubs here and there won’t hurt anybody. They even add color and spice.
You know the friends I’m talking about.
The one’s who make you groan when their name pops up on your cell phone, the same friends you manage to call when you know they’re not home. I’m talking toxic friends. The zappers of your energy, the thieves of your enthusiasm. The whiners and complainers. The ones who only talk about themselves, except to let you know when someone is talking about you, or that you weren’t invited to a party, or when you get a bad haircut. It’s the jealous, the petty, and the game players. The ones who take and demand, then give nothing in return. Those are the weeds we need to pull from our life.
And I know it’s hard to do. But, it’s not like you have to send out pink slips or de-friend them on Facebook. Oftentimes, it’s only a matter of giving yourself permission to allow the friendship to fade away. If something or someone doesn’t add to your life, what’s the point? Why keep it up? Because your kids are friends? Because you’ve known them for ages? Guilt?
That’s too heavy a price to pay. Especially when the cost is your freedom. Your joy. Not to mention all the friends whose company you could be enjoying.
2. Tend to the Flowers
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
Henry David Thoreau
Now that the weeds are trimmed, we can start tending to the flowers that remain. Of course, if you’ve been spending all your energy picking weeds for a long time, chances are the flowers have wilted and the grass is brown. It’s time to bring them back to life. Concentrate on the real garden.
Unfortunately, when it comes to friendship, most of us are using automatic sprinklers, believing all our friends should be treated the same, or that we don’t have to think about it. After all, isn’t friendship a no-brainer?
And there is validity in that argument. You shouldn’t have to try too hard with a good friend. It should be easy, safe and comfortable. But, the harm comes when it becomes too easy, safe and comfortable. If we’re not watching, we can become lazy and needy.
Have you ever thought we could be someone else’s weed?
Like anything else, it can happen if we slip into unconsciousness. If we start taking our friendships for granted. If we talk more than we listen. If we take, push and demand, more than we give, accept and allow. And it can happen if we treat all friendships as the same, instead of realizing that each friendship has its own special rules, with its own unique subtleties and nuances.
On the other hand, friendship can become an exciting new room and a pathway to awareness. We just have to be bold and awake enough to enter. This takes attention, kindness, acceptance, allowance, laughter, honesty, and a bit of stupidity. Not to mention, hard work. In other words, friendship is a microcosm for the rest of our world. Master friendship and we master life.
3. Don’t be Afraid to Replant
“You can't stay in your corner of the forest, waiting for others to come to you; you have to go to them sometimes.”
It’s easy to say I’m antisocial. But, the truth is, I’m lazy. Sometimes I avoid eye contact in the hopes of not extending myself to another human being. Not because I don’t want friends, but because I don’t want the work involved. I tell myself I have enough friends. And the truth is, I really don’t need a lot of friends. I need the right ones. The ones who give me space and freedom to be who I am, without sucking my life force. I need laughter.
But, the more I walk around with that attitude, the more I close myself off to what potentially lies around the corner. Who knows what could be waiting for me if I didn’t have the shades drawn and my dance card always filled.
If this website has taught me anything, it’s that there are some really wonderful people out there. Interesting people who are doing all kinds of brave and remarkable things. They’re changing the world. And if I hadn’t extended myself, my life wouldn’t be as rich as it is today.
From this week forward, let’s pledge to get off the couch, make eye contact and engage those people who interest us. Let’s be the one to make the first step. The one who opens the door, walks across the room, extends the hand. Says hello.
We’ll never know what will happen until we do.
4. Seek out the Annuals.
“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today," said Pooh.
"There there," said Piglet. "I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
From annuals to perennials, cactuses to gardenias, we have all seen our gardens take many shapes and forms over the years. Sometimes you can’t do anything about the way a friendship ends or fades away. Sometimes you can. In fact, what better time than now to reach out to a friend you haven’t seen in awhile.
It could be a month, a year, or ten years. It doesn’t matter. Just choose someone who has been popping into your head lately, someone you’ve been itching to call. Someone you let slip away. Let your intuition guide you. Then make it simple. Lunch, a couple drinks, coffee. You don’t have to go with a lot of expectations, just the openness to spend a few minutes with an old friend and see where it takes you.
If you pick right back up where you left off, great. You have a new room. If you find yourself with a few awkward moments of uncomfortable conversation, well, guess what, you faced your fear, threw your hat in the ring and said, “no to laziness.” That’s as a good a room as any.
Who knows what may blossom again from the tiny seed of a small act?
5. Sit back and Enjoy the Garden
“Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”
Epicurus, A Guide To Happiness
Okay, now that the dirt has been wiped off and you’ve hopefully taken a shower, it’s time to sit back and enjoy your labor.
You don’t need to do a thing. Just be. Admire your garden for what it is, with all its shades of color, variety and imperfections. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to keep up, but at the end of the day, friendship is one of the most prized and uncomplicated joys we have in this world.
Personally, I am grateful for all my friends, from grade school to college to this moment. They have all helped shape me into who I am today, even the friends I never see anymore. I am thankful for them all.
And, finally, to all the wonderful readers who have extended themselves to me over the last six months, let me say that I value these new friendships more than you’ll ever know. I shall keep my gardening gloves on, while continuing to nourish what I hope will be a long and fruitful friendship with you all.
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