It was almost two years ago when I stood at a nearby train station, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a high school friend of mine from back home. It had been years since we last saw each other. True, I never failed to send her a Christmas card every year, but other than that, we rarely kept in touch except for an occasional email or two. And yet she still considered me a very close friend – and I her.
We somehow ended up on opposite sides of the train tracks but eventually found each other and hugged amidst the inevitable laughter and squeals of delight, before walking back to my car holding hands – just as we used to, decades ago.
I was unimaginably happy to see my friend, to reconnect with her. Holding her hand made the connection even stronger, my happiness even greater. At the same time, it communicated back to her my own joy at her presence. What a most natural thing to do, holding the hand of a dear dear friend. And yet it had probably been years since I last did that – in public, no less!
I was struck by how deprived I was of this beautiful act of friendship. Sure, I hug and kiss friends now and then (of course, family is an entirely different story!), but the prolonged touch of a friend’s hand held – even squeezed to emphasize one’s delight – is a rarity at best. Being somewhat reserved by nature, I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until then.
It reminded me of another such meeting of friends a year earlier, only in this case, newly made friends. We had gone to visit a family who had a boy close to our daughter’s age – it was the first time they had met, yet they bonded instantly and spent most of the day by each other’s side. As they walked along the street together, they held hands, simply enjoying each other’s company – completely oblivious to their parents’ clicking cameras and smiles.
I love this photo, not so much because of the memories and children involved, but because of the glimpse it provides into the beautiful connection of two souls without kinship or any other common bond save for friendship.
Aristotle once said: Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
This might at first glance seem a bit too intimate a description for mere friends. Perhaps he was speaking of a married couple and not just friends? But then again, one of the foundations of a great marriage is a great friendship…
In Tagalog, the word for friend is kaibigan, and the root word of friendship and romantic love happen to be the same: ibig or fondness, love. It seems the Old English and German words for “friend” also mean “to love”. The word “friend” then implies, in many languages, love as a basis for friendship – a two-way connection between souls, willed by both.
It’s a shame the word nowadays has lost its true meaning from overuse and misuse, with dozens of mere acquaintances (even strangers!) online being called “friends”, and mere friends being called “BFF”, perhaps out of a misguided sense of fairness or equality. And it seems with the dilution of the meaning of the word also comes the dilution of the meaning of friendship.
Growing up back home, it was clear who your friends were – they were simply the ones you spent the most time with. And back then, one actually spent time conversing and enjoying each other’s company, all the while making eye contact with one another, instead of one’s cellphone.
We were blessed to live in a close-knit neighborhood of about fifteen families, where everyone was welcome in one another’s homes, and where all the parents were called Tito (Uncle) and Tita (Auntie) and the older kids Kuya (older brother) or Ate (older sister) – though none of us was related by blood. We were about two dozen kids in all, and we spent our spare time hanging out together, joking around, riding our bikes and playing outside together. We made up our own games, formed clubs, and organized summer sports fests. It didn’t matter that our ages spanned a good decade at least. We looked out for and helped one another, learned to deal with one another’s faults, felt pride in each other’s accomplishments, and treated each other like our own brothers and sisters. We were friends.
We didn’t need an electronic device to make friends. In fact, we probably made friends because of the lack of it!
But though electronic devices may not be the best way to make friends, they can be a great tool for keeping friendships alive – if used properly. Recently, I was able to start reconnecting with some of my dear high school friends (including my friend from the train station) through free group text messaging, halfway round the world. What a blessing this has been!
As in decades past, we were able to laugh at each other’s jokes (belly laughs!), rejoice in each other’s successes and joys, pray for each other, and support one another in life’s challenges. It was as though we were hugging and holding hands again – albeit only virtually. In spite of the time difference and miles between us, texting has allowed us to continue and develop the connection in our souls that had already been formed years ago.
So what is it that makes a friendship run deep, surviving years and miles of separation, misunderstandings, life changes and other challenges?
I read once that there are different kinds of friends – most are mere acquaintances, many are occasional friends, a few are close friends, and perhaps only one (or two) are soulmates who stick with you no matter what for the long haul. I’ve found it is important to remember what kind of friend to you a person is, and to be grateful for and expect no more than what he or she is able to give. This – understanding and accepting what is given – has helped me tremendously in maintaining friendships with even the least connected of all in my life (and I am unfortunately of that same kind!).
But the one thing that really grounds true friendship is found in its very root word – love. Not a sentimental love or a self-centered love, but love based on a spirit of sacrifice. This may sound archaic, but such was the stuff friendships (and marriages!) of previous generations were made of – friendships that not only withstood the test of time but also of wars, separations, immigration and unimaginable tragedies. It is only with this selfless spirit of service to another that one can freely love and know that one is loved — and not merely used for another’s self-gratification.
Inundated as we are today by the myriad definitions of friends and friendships, it is still my hope that our children will find true friends and real lasting friendships – friendships not based on mere “haves” like looks, “friends”, possessions, or skills, but based instead on a real communion between souls who spend time together getting to know each other, enjoying each other’s presence, and weathering the ups and downs of life together, with the willingness to sacrifice in helping each other be better persons. Friends with whom they may even share the singular joy of holding a dear friend’s hand, having first shared their hearts.
May we find and enjoy true kaibigans in our midst always!