Friendship Day celebrates oft-complex relationships

2011-12-29T00:00:00Z Friendship Day celebrates oft-complex relationshipsOpinion by Barbara Russek Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Have you bought your hot-off-the-press 2012 calendar yet? With the plethora of places calendars can be purchased, chances are the answer is yes.

Once the calendar is brought home and the shrinkwrap removed, there doesn't seem to be much more to do than check out what day your birthday or certain holidays fall this coming year.

One important event that should be on everyone's calendar is generally conspicuous by its absence: National Friendship Day, which falls on the first Sunday in August. Most folks don't even know that NFD exists, much less celebrate it. National Friendship Day was officially inaugurated by Congress in 1935; to me, it is one of the most important holidays on - or off - the calendar.

After all, where would we be without friends, who multiply our joys and share our sorrows? Whose opinions, when they differ from ours, are a sharp reminder that we are not the center of the universe? Who relish the time spent in our company, as opposed to the hackneyed "we have to do lunch some day." Who make the journey through life a lot more fun.

Perhaps James Garner's Murphy Jones in the movie "Murphy's Romance" best encapsulates feelings on the subject when friends surprise him on his 60th birthday. Just before cutting the cake, Murphy makes a few extemporaneous remarks to those gathered around: "My friends have overlooked my shortcomings, seen me through some dark days and brightened up the rest of them. I'm glad to have them; I'm honored to have them; I'm lucky to have them."

I identify strongly with appreciation of friends. Take last summer, for instance. I had to spend an extended period of time in a coastal city in California, where I knew nobody. Just as this town was my destination, so it was for hordes of tourists. Most of the locals tolerated us "foreigners" at best, and were downright dismissive at worst.

One shop owner actually told me after I mentioned how hard it was to connect with folks around there, "Well, you're geographically undesirable." In other words, my time was limited, so why bother.

I was physically in paradise, but my morale was in the pits. During that period, my friend Mimi was there for me, with phone calls exchanged practically every day. Sometimes we talked twice a day. Mimi listened, told me I was doing amazingly well when I didn't feel very amazing at all, and even got me to laugh a little. When my cellphone rang in the a.m. and I heard Mimi's familiar "Good morning, how are you?" I knew all I needed was a few minutes of friend fix and I could face the day ahead.

But friendship is complex - a lot more complex than the sweet sentiments expressed on most greeting cards. As my friend Chrysanne has said, "You can't have closeness without conflict."

There will always be emotional bumps along the friendship road; anyone who denies having had feelings of jealousy, competition, resentment, irritation or at the least wistfulness regarding a close friend is probably a victim of selective amnesia.

Chrysanne has often told me about her friend Sheila. The two have known each other since Chrysanne was 3 years old. She still remembers how they played together as children. Shared history is one of the active ingredients in the glue that holds friends together.

But today, things are different. Sheila's fast-paced schedule allows for girls' lunch out only two or three times a year.

"It's tough to accept," Chrysanne confided to me. "But when we do get together the years melt away and we're as close as we always were."

Another friend, Rebecca, admitted to me that many years ago when she and her best friend, Sandy, were applying for college, Rebecca convinced Sandy to attend a university that was actually Sandy's second choice.

"I told her we would room together and help each other adjust to college life," Rebecca told me.

Then jealousy reared its ugly head. Rebecca felt Sandy was prettier and would have more social success, especially with the guys. Shortly before the girls left for college, Rebecca announced to Sandy that she was going to get a different roommate. The two went their separate ways after that. But time, apologies and forgiveness healed that wound. Rebecca and Sandy put the broken pieces back together a few years later; today the friendship is stronger than ever.

So before you hang that calendar on the wall, you might want to pen in National Friendship Day for the first Sunday in August. It may be one of the most meaningful holidays you celebrate (with friends, of course!) next year.

Barbara Russek welcomes comments, especially your stories of friendship, at Babette2@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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