>Risking Friendship: The Secret to Happiness

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Tonight on the NBC Evening News, Ann Curry interviewed a group of women who had been friends for twenty or more years. They talked about the importance of friendship. “Friends: The Secret to Happiness” was a spinoff from the larger report about how Americans are living longer. The women agreed that for most of them, friends were as important as family, and possibly more important to their well-being.

Yesterday a Friend rode with me as I made one of my frequent 400-mile round trips to visit my mother, who is in an assisted living home in Mississippi. Now, I actually love to drive… even on long trips alone. Time to think. To listen to my favorite CDs. To write. (Yes, I know, I should get a tape recorder, which would be much safer than writing while driving….) Anyway, my Friend went with me to visit her newborn great-niece. We talked a lot, but there were also periods of comfortable silence. Just being together. We were gone from 7:30 am until about 6:30 pm, but I wasn’t really that tired when I got home. Because I was with my Friend.
As an artist and writer, I find myself spending more time alone. Some of this is necessary, in order to work. Some of it seems to be a natural social attrition that happens to artists, I think. We’re different, and sometimes we make people uncomfortable. Which is one reason we need the company of other artists and writers. This morning I met an artist-friend at Starbucks for about an hour and we sat outside in the (finally) cool morning air and talked about our current projects and I felt refreshed… re-energized by her energy, you know? Like our dear Madeleine L’Engle said, “we all feed the lake.” And it’s encouraging to be with people who get you.

But it’s also important to be with people in our communities, our neighborhoods, and our church homes… those with whom we’ve cast our lots because of commitment to places and causes or shared faiths. These relationships require a little more work, because when we work together on things we care about, we sometimes hurt eachother.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven wher eyou can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.

Father Christopher Metropulos, founder of the Orthodox Christian Network and the Come Receive the Light national Orthodox Christian radio program (http://www.receive.org/) contributed a wonderful article to the latest issue of The Handmaiden, whose theme is “Loneliness, Isolation and Community,” called “The Way of Koinonia.” Fr. Metropulos says:

The Greek word koinonia means community, in its most profound and mysterious sense. God Himself is koinonia…. We can only truly understand ourselves, we can only lay claim to the image of God within us, when we recognize that like God, the truth of who we are is centered in our community. The truth of our very nature demands that we fully embrace our relationships with others.

Our church is hosting it’s annual women’s retreat November 9-10, and our speaker this year is an Orthodox priest from Wichita, Kansas–Father Paul O’Callahan. Fr. Paul wrote a wonderful book called The Feast of Friendship, and I’m really looking forward to hearing his thoughts when he comes to Memphis in November. And to spending that weekend with some of my Friends, embracing those relationships that, as Ann Curry found in her interviews, just might be the “secret to happiness.”

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