When I was about five years old and discouraged about some relationship with another child, I asked my parents how to make a friend. My parents were both young, in their twenties, but on this subject they were wise beyond their years.
“To make a friend, be a friend.”
Did my mother say it, or my father?
I can’t remember, but I do remember trying to puzzle out what those words meant.
How do I be a friend? How does a person “be”?
My first take on this advice was simply to “be nice” to someone I wanted to play with. Say “hi” and smile.
Often, this worked out well.
But in school it didn’t take long to discover that some kids didn’t respond. A few were even dismissive. They were the popular ones who had “fans” they enjoyed favoring or disfavoring. I began to recognize that school had a pecking order, and while I was not at the bottom, I would likely never make it to the top. I wrote about this dawning awareness in my childhood memoir.
I recently read an article in The Atlantic that convinced me that children today may have even more trouble adjusting to the social side of school than I did — and the the social side is absolutely crucial to the academic side. In “The Real Reason Kids Don’t Like School,” columnist Arthur Brooks says,
Having spent so much of my life on college campuses, I can attest that the need for a best friend does not end after high school. And having just moved to a new community, I feel just a little of the social anxiety that comes from unfamiliarity and uncertainty. “What has changed? Will my old friends still want to hang out with me. Will I be able to make new friends? That question has been answered due to the quality of people in our new environment. We are so lucky that we found a house that shares a wall with these two people.
By having two generous and fun friends we already knew, people who were six months ahead of us in getting to know the rest of the community, we had a great advantage when it came to making other friends. Jack and Gloria invited us to meals with their Lititz friends and introduced me to pickleball, a sport that feels just right for this stage in life. Having a regular time on the courts with the other people nearby who are learning the sport was an automatic entry to an existing social circle.
I was also excited to join my three closest friends (above) from college and to close another circle. All of us grew up in Lancaster County, but we didn’t know each other until we enrolled at Eastern Mennonite College (now University). After we graduated, we scattered — first living in Virginia, then heading to graduate schools in New York, Texas, and Utah. Then we took jobs in Indiana, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. As we retired, we eventually all found our ways back to Pennsylvania. Now we can gather around a table in Lancaster, State College, Lititz, or Mount Joy and pick up just where we left off last time. We’ve already had two lovely long lunches, and we’re looking forward to a third in September. We can also do spontaneous get-to-gethers with one or more members of this group.
Of course, the greatest privilege of our new location is the proximity to family — “old friends” of the most lasting type of all. My mother and three siblings and I all have Lititz addresses, and we have seen each other many times in the three months since Stuart and I moved north. Once was an all-family extravaganza on my sister Sue’s farm, one was a birthday breakfast, some were bike rides, and granddaughter play dates, and some were meals. I feel so blessed to be able to say truthfully: my siblings and my mother are some of my best friends.
As blessed as I feel about old friends and family, I also want to make new ones. One reason we moved, at ages 75 and 72 (instead of waiting 10 or 15 more years), was that we want to take advantage of the new location to find new recreation, church, and even professional relationships.
It helps, also, to live in a place, Warwick Woodlands, where the design of spaces and staff focuses on privacy within community, giving the residents access to a directory, and multiple invitations to events from Happy Hour to bocce, to book clubs, Bible studies, and much more. You choose how to connect and with whom, but the parade of possibilities dazzles. It will take years to find our favorite activities and share them with new friends.
New online friends
Whatever downsides social media bring (many!), most of us still have favorite online places to hang out online because our lives have been enriched by connecting across many miles and by meeting people we otherwise would never know. Every time I hit “publish” on this blog, 700 people get a message because they signed up to get “Magical Memoir Moments” (in the purple box on the right-hand side of this page). Some of those people found the blog by reading my first book, BLUSH; some are looking forward to the publication of THE MINDFUL GRANDPARENT. And some of those live near Lancaster, PA, my new home area.
So imagine my delight when one of those people, Melinda DiBernado, who read BLUSH and follows this blog, asked if we could meet up. We chose the iconic Tomato Pie Cafe, a mile away from my house, and Melinda invited a friend, Jane. What fun we had comparing our respective childhoods in the area and our careers in education and church work. The 1.5 hours flew by.
I am so grateful that this medium has brought people like Melinda and Jane into my life and hope to meet other readers and writers in central PA as my new book gets closer to the publication date. And that means I am also so grateful for you, dear reader, whether you live in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, or as far away as South Africa or the UK. As the old song says, “Make new friends, but keep the old. The one is silver and the other gold.”