By Sharon F. Cramer
What if L. Frank Baum created Oz because he left the gray and white winters of Kansas, and visited a place startlingly green? Leaving our Western New York monochrome world between November through April for southern states really could be a trip to Emerald City.
Extend the metaphor to friendships. Friends can be the emerald zones in our lives. Friends finish stories we begin, recite lines from remembered movies. When we need distraction friends can conjure up favorite food moments (disasters or celebrations). Green turns to jade in times of difficulty or sorrow – these are the people upon whom we can depend, no question.
Many friends have been permanent fixtures in our lives, going back years, decades even, with no expiration dates. Some shared extraordinary life changes (sought or thrust upon us), others are only familiar with the stories/names of people or places from our other lives. As John Hockenberry, formerly of National Public Radio, observed, with some people we share the “dense, complicated web of shared history.”
Recently I began considering why only some friendships gleam. And, interestingly, shared history was not essential. More important is the cornerstone of trust – the sense that you and your friend can speak of many things without censorship. As one friend noticed, oftentimes, between friends, in telling or listening, unexpected insights emerge. Friendships, new or old, can be welcoming harbors for “thinking out loud.”
And neither proximity nor frequency of contact dent that trust – with some friends any conversation (even if there have been months or years since the last communication) is a continuation of previous topics.
Friendship depends on the teeter-totter of reciprocity. One person can’t do all the work. The exception is cutting a friend some slack in the long arc of a lifetime. One person’s over-full life may have few spare moments to make (or even receive) a call, requiring more of a one-way relationship for a time. Ideally, the give-and-take of a friendship means that both people take responsibility for changing the batteries of the friendship, now and again.
Some people become “friends of circumstance.” Shared work, interests, children of the same age, or life events may have brought us close for a time. Easy conversations and shared understanding seemed to create a true bond. But, not all of these friendships make it past the edge of the playground. What was once an easy slide to connect becomes a pool of guilt, and eventually a basketball hoop forlornly positioned but never used.
But some circumstantial friends make it past time-limited mutual reliance into the enduring position of “always.” Such true friends take you as you are. Some encourage you to edge out of your comfort zone, but accept your “no” without push-back.
Friends, after calling on you for advice about a complicated situation, remember to let you know how it all turned out – friends don’t leave friends hanging.
Helping you travel down the road to Emerald City, friends use their skills to help you fend off problems – the winged monkeys of life – without making a big deal out of it. Friends, like carbon monoxide detectors, are always alert, telling you what you may not like but need to hear. When we are lucky and attentive, amidst life’s colorless landscape, friendship remains a vibrant oasis.
Sharon F. Cramer is a distinguished service professor emerita from SUNY Buffalo State College.