Last week I went to Florida to visit my best friend from seminary. Rick and I met in 1977 and have been close friends ever since. It had been four years since we had last visited in person and I’m embarrassed to say that I had thoughts, right up until the last minute before my departure, as to whether I truly had time in my “busy” schedule to make the trip. Gratefully, I recognized those thoughts for what they were-the thoughts of a person who too often values doing over being, and of working over relationships-and I went ahead with the trip.
Four days of hanging out with an old friend is good for the soul. We have been through a lot together and we know each other so well-we know each other’s strengths, and more importantly, we know each other’s vulnerabilities. Close friends are by definition those people with whom we can share our whole selves. Close friends never try to fix us, they simply are there to listen and walk with us on our path.
Our grandson is two and half years old and is just discovering the delight of having friends. And I remember the delight my father experienced well into his late eighties as he maintained life-long relationships and at the same time continued making new friends in the retirement community where he lived out his final years. I recently heard the expression that captures our life-long need for an inner circle of people who know us, and love us for who we truly are: “Friends are essential from our time on the rocking horse to our time in the rocking chair.”
The Chinese have an ancient proverb about friendship that says, “The fifth cup of tea between friends is the best.” The origin of this saying comes from a Chinese tradition of sharing a cup of tea with a friend. The first cup of tea brews quickly as the tea leaves are fresh and strong, while each successive cup takes a little longer to brew. By the time you share your fifth cup of tea, not only have you already been talking for some time, but waiting for that fifth cup to brew only heightens the enjoyment of your time together.
Whether it is the sharing of five cups of tea in one setting, or sharing of many cups of tea over five decades, long term friendships are sacred in life. I write this not so much to remind our readers of this, but to remind myself. As a man who prides himself on being independent, I don’t always make it a priority to nurture my friendships. Too often I am too “busy” doing more “productive” things, or so my thinking sometimes goes.
Summer is here and is a good time to reconnect with old friends and I am very much looking forward to sharing a fifth cup of tea with several other friends over the next several weeks and months.
Who might you reach out to reconnect with this summer?
Maybe we can all work more intentionally on applying the wisdom from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The only way to have a friend, is to be one.” I will conclude with a few other quotes about friendship, in case you, too, need a reminder of why it is important to make time in your “busy” life for your sacred and sustaining relationships.
“Friendship…is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” Muhammad Ali
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles.” Brenê Brown