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The Power and Beauty of Friendship

They first met when my mother left the family farm near Meridian, Mississippi at age 19 and came to live in Jacksonville, Florida near her brother, Bob, and his wife, Winnie. It is remarkable for me to think of the courage it took for a country girl to come to such a big city to live. She found a job at IRS that she kept for more than forty years, a church home, Riverside Baptist, that was as different from her home church as it could have been, and a garage apartment to start her new life. At IRS she met and became friends with Jewel. They were in each other’s weddings and as young adult couples enjoyed entertaining each other in their homes. When children came along, the visits were less frequent but the friendship remained strong. And now, as my mother approaches 91 and Jewel joins the 90 and older club, they seem to love each other as much as ever.

We had been talking about Jewel coming to Tallahassee for a visit with momma for a while now and last weekend, it happened. My sister brought Jewel from Jacksonville and my husband and I carried a box springs and mattress to my mother’s assisted living room and the magic began. They enjoyed two days of reminiscing and laughter and two nights of being roomies. There was more light in my mother’s eyes than I have seen since my daddy died two years ago. Jewel is a mess! She saw some Old Spice deodorant on my mother’s dresser, a remnant of my father’s life, and playfully demanded that my mother reveal who had been staying in her room. She told us the story of a retired repairman who came to fix her stove about a year after his wife died. He asked Jewel, without any beating around the bush, if she wanted to get married. When she told him she didn’t think so at nearly ninety, he was shocked; he thought she was seventy. I teased her about how she could have been a “cougar,” which I needed to explain.

It was helpful for me to see how Jewel interacted with my mother. She did not treat momma as someone living with dementia. Though Jewel knows of my mother’s limitations, she embraced her as the friend she had always loved, picking up mid-sentence like good friends so often do. She was not overly protective or condescending. She was real and mom seemed to flourish. As I drove them on a tour of Tallahassee and they sat together chatting in the backseat, I was thrilled to hear their interaction. Jewel did not correct mom or try to orient her. She just embraced the connections they could make and dismissed as unimportant those that were beyond the reach of my mother in the moment.

Millennials know the value of friendship. Some eight years ago, a new word showed up in the Urban Dictionary: Friendsgiving. Introduced by millennials who found it preferable or more sensible to share Thanksgiving with friends rather than go to the expense or through the drama of being with family, these gatherings of friends are gaining momentum. Our grown children have been participating in Friendsgiving for several years now.

The Hebrew Bible speaks of the value of friendship in its wisdom literature, telling of a friend who sticks closer than a brother and how the wounds from a friend can be trusted. Jesus speaks to his disciples of his ministry and tells them, “I call you friends because everything I have learned from my Father I have told you.” The Buddha, known for his rather solitary life said, “Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is the whole of the holy life.” In Islam there is the understanding that we have two friends in the world, Allah and those who remind us of Allah.

C.S. Lewis once said, “To the ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves.” It certainly seemed the happiest when my mother and her friend Jewel shared a recent visit. I pray for all of us the grace to know and nurture friendship in our lives.