Every year in February, I write a post about gratefulness. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and it is a time during which I reflect on the past and how it has shaped the present. It is also a way of reminding myself to be thankful for simply having good people in my life. You can find Grateful I and How to Not be Grumpy on Valentine’s Day in the archives if you’d like to read the others in this series of posts.
During February, please take time to talk to the teens in your life about cultivating healthy relationships, and how to recognize the signs of abuse. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. It’s time to break the cycle.
The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?
–Henry David Thoreau
There are a lot of individuals and groups of people who have had a strong impact on my life. My entire family who gave me the foundation and understanding of what it means to love and care for one another, my husband who reminds me every day that I am a person of value and that I am loved, my two best work friends who always seem to know how to bring a smile to my face. To feel as though one matters in the world is a beautiful thing that we often take for granted until someone or something knocks us into the pit. That’s when we need a careful hand to help us up, and is often when we are most grateful for who is fearless enough to lend it.
What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
Sometimes though, it’s people who I haven’t seen for years that I feel the most grateful to have known. Maybe I couldn’t understand what kind of an affect the person had on me until we were far removed from one another, and that is what came into my head last week. People who quite literally changed my life and don’t even know it. And that makes me think of high school.
Never shall I forget the days I spent with you. Continue to be my friend,
as you will always find me yours.
–Ludwig van Beethoven
I felt lonely as a teenager. This is not to say that I was ever alone. It seems odd when I look back on all of the pictures of me smiling with my friends and being completely silly. I’ve got brightly colored hair, rainbow jewelry, shoes with bright orange flames on them, and am grinning so hard most of the time that my dimples are in full view. Everything outward is vibrant and screams “Look at me, I’m happy!” If there was ever a person ‘trying too hard,’ it was me. Inside I felt gray. It was no one’s fault; that’s just where I was at that moment in my life. And I can accept that now as a part of my evolution, but I couldn’t see it that way at the time. All I could see was the light that was out of reach from where I stood in the pit.
A friend might well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
But there were people that always dragged me out of that pit. I am in awe of the maturity it showed to be a friend to someone dealing with depression at that age. For a teenager none of that really makes sense, so to be able to shrug at it and say, “Doesn’t matter. I love you anyway,” was an act of selflessness. That gesture made happiness seem possible and within reach. It helped me understand the true meaning of friendship. I will always carry that with me and hope that I can be the kind of friend that these men were to me. So this year, I will share those particular individuals with you because I think it is important to take time to acknowledge those who brought positivity back into my life when I couldn’t do it on my own. During the month of February, I set my intention during yoga practice as one of being thankful for them, and all of the friends who have shown me love along the way.
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
–C . S. Lewis
Nate: My friend Zoe introduced me to him at one of our voice class’ concerts when I was in the eighth grade. I hounded Zoe for weeks to give me his phone number and soon we were talking on the phone nearly every day. He and I couldn’t get together very often as we didn’t live close to one another, but where there is friendship there are solutions. On multiple occasions, we synchronized our VCRs (Oh, I’m dating myself here…) so that we could watch the same movie while talking (usually making fun of said movie) on the phone. He stuck with me through thick and thin. He was on the phone with me the night that I ended the most awful, abusive relationship of my life, reassuring me that no, I wasn’t crazy to have done so. Nate was not simply loyal and wonderful in every way, but reminded me that “you don’t need to be fixed, because you’re not broken.”
Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Jake: My rock. My absolute, total rock. I’ve rewritten this paragraph more times than I can count because I can’t adequately describe how valued I felt whenever we were together. At one point in high school, I didn’t speak to him for almost three months (due to aforementioned terrifying relationship). One night I worked up the courage to call him purely to apologize for my absence, and remember how ashamed I felt for having been such a negligent friend. Three days later he was with me playing pool in my basement like nothing about our friendship had ever changed. He always accepted me without reservation. There was nothing I looked forward to more than seeing him at our weekly youth group meetings. He was, and I have no doubt still is, an incredibly talented artist. I have kept for years a pen drawing he did in one of my notebooks. Under the psychedelic design his phone number is written with the words “call if you ever need anything” beneath it. When I see pictures of him now happily married and with a beautiful little son, it makes me feel so joyful for him and his family.
“Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I’ve known you so many years?”
“Because I like you,” she said, “and I don’t want anything from you.”
Joe W.: A hero to me in the most honest sense of the word. Joe brought me back to the land of the living when I tried to isolate myself from everyone and everything. We spent many Friday afternoons wandering the streets of Oakland, and regularly spiffed ourselves up to go to the theatre together. We’d grab a pair of balcony seats to whatever musical was playing at the Benedum and then spend hours afterward critiquing it. He encouraged me to go to speech and debate meets, pushed me to be a better musician, got me to dance, and fed my creative spirit more than any friend I have known since. He is the reason that I came to know and love so many different shows. To this day, I cannot see a performance of Les Miserables without thinking of us seeing it together and getting chills at the chorus’ rendition of “One Day More.” His encouragement and kindness lifted me up in a way that was truly special. I thought of him nearly every time the NSO warmed up before Choral Arts performances last year, sure deep down that he could outplay their oboist…just because of the kind of determination he has in his heart.
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
Scott: If you could take joy and fill a person to the brim with it that would describe Scott. He radiated joy. From the day I met him I was smitten with him. His capacity for love and forgiveness is something that I have striven to achieve ever since. I met Scott during my junior year of high school, and we were dance partners for part of our school’s performance of “Anything Goes.” When I was having a particularly bad day once, I remember him standing in the wings on the other side of the stage making silly faces at me until I laughed. Sometimes he’d just grab my hand and yank me into a dance number without a word. When I felt lost and confused, he was the person who helped me make sense of things. On numerous occasions we were out somewhere with our other friend Pat and he would make me laugh so hard that I’d be afraid to sip whatever I was drinking for fear of it spewing out of my nose. One of my favorite memories of all time is thinking of the blast we had wandering around downtown Pittsburgh and enjoying the revelry one New Year’s Eve. Every once in awhile, one of our silly inside jokes pops into my head out of nowhere and I cannot help but smile. That in and of itself is a really wonderful thing, and the warm happiness that follows is worth more than gold.
Writing this has been a very peaceful, reflective exercise, and I have and will always carry the lessons and values that these people taught me. I will forever be in awe over the fortune of having known them.
And I will never stop being grateful.