“I think that real friendship always makes us feel such sweet gratitude, because the world almost always seems like a very hard desert, and the flowers that grow there seem to grow against such high odds.” Stephen King, The Eyes of the Dragon
At this season of Thanksgiving, I look back over the year’s ceremonies with a deep sense of gratitude. Weddings, Celebrations of Life, Anniversaries are the flowers in the desert, the coming together of many different folks connected by a single thread—and a thousand threads—to honor life.
One of the biggest surprises for me has been the recurrent thread of friendship in my work. My clients and their ceremonies have encouraged me to broaden my definition of friendship. For I’ve seen so many examples of friendship where I never expected it:
- The middle-aged daughter who, at the last moment, invited her long-estranged biological father to her mother’s memorial. She extended all she could offer him, her hand in simple friendship. And he, after sitting beside her in the front row, being welcomed by her other family members and listening to the stories of this woman’s—his first love’s—life, he was overcome with gratitude. She was grateful that she could welcome him back into the family (having suffered the loss of her beloved mother, she yet gained a father). While he was grateful for the opportunity and invitation to form a friendship with this daughter he never knew.
- This year, wedding couple after wedding couple exchanged vows that promised friendship as well as love. For some couples, friendship meant accepting each other as they are and also accepting who they might become. For others, friendship meant simple equality. One couple even defined their marriage within their spoken vows as the formal recognition of their enduring friendship over any other virtue.
- A widow, in recalling her first impressions of her future husband, told me that as a woman of 19, she had known she’d finally met the man she would be real friends with until death did them part. They were married 60 years until his death last Spring.
- A couple at the end of their marriage, no longer “in love,” but instead treasuring the enduring friendship that has motivates them to help each other and their family through this difficult transition. They want a word other than “divorce” to describe the changes impacting their relationship. For they will always consider each other as the best of friends.
Witnessing such profound expressions of friendship, friendships that stretch the traditional definitions of the word itself, has deepened my own gratitude of those instances of friendship all around me. The odds against us can be so high. We must try to remember to also see and appreciate the flowers that grow in the “very hard desert,” the beautiful friendship that abounds all around us.