5 Friends

This week has been something.

The start of the school year. The chaos in Afghanistan. The ongoing pandemic. The increasing evidence of the climate crisis that surrounds us and will define our future. Challenges all around, large and small.

It's been a lot.

One of the things that has specifically changed for us this past week is that we are all getting up much earlier. Justin has always been able to wake up when he is done sleeping. I could count on one hand the number of times we have had to wake him up before this week. And now? I am in his room at 6:15 to wake him up in order to get him to school on time and avoid the worst of the drop off line traffic.

Getting Justin up that early means I have to be up even earlier. I have always liked time and places where it feels like I am the only one awake. I used to request to work night shifts while I was deployed. I love 4 o'clock in the morning. It is like you have the whole world to yourself for just a bit. So, I have been waking up at 5am to drink my coffee, read the news, and generally take a beat before waking everyone else up.

There is one downside to those early starts. When I wake up at 5, the house is dark. I am a little fuzzy. There are always a few moments where I am stumbling in the darkness, trying to find my way to a lamp, a light, something to illuminate the room. All while I come into my body and start to move for the first time in hours.

Finding the light doesn't wake me up. Time and movement do that. Coffee helps. Light just helps provide support and contours. It shows the way.

The world is dark right now. It has been for a while. Maybe all human history. Life has always been hard.

I have been thinking about lights. The thing that helps support us, that shows us the way. That helps us find a path to being fully awake.

This week, I will be talking about those lights. Our friends. The people that give us support, love, and care. The people who make all this worth it. The people who are there.

We all have 5 friends. Well, 5 categories of friends. 5 levels of connection. These friends exist in different places and at different times in our life. Some friends are there for one season, and then move on. Some are there for several seasons. Some friends are for life.

Sometimes, friends can feel far off, like that lamp I can't quite turn on at 5am. Sometimes they are so present, so bright, that they blind us. Friends are complicated.

Nothing is ever one thing. And.

In a time of darkness, we all need a light. And when life is ... well, life, then we need our friends.

Here it is. My list of 5 Friends.

1 - Colleagues

Barb and I were talking to Lizzie after her first day of school. She was telling us about her classes and her teachers, eating outside, and what high school was like during the Delta surge. At one point she said that while she didn't really know anyone in her classes, the people who were there seemed chill and easy to get along with. "Maybe some of them could become friends," Barb offered.

"No mom," Lizzie said, "they can be work friends. They are professional colleagues. That's it."

Colleagues are important. We all have to work. Whether that work is school or a job. Whether we work in an office or a restaurant or remotely. We have some friendships that are purely professional.

Having connections where we work can help us on the job. Work shared is a burden divided. We can learn and grow by working with others. Even when it is challenging. Sometimes especially when it is challenging.

Colleagues can do more than help us on the job. They can help us with the job. They can help us manage work and life and all the many ways we can be pulled around by our lives. Some of these relationships can become close, which is a double-edged sword and can bring its own complications.

Because nothing is ever one thing. Even friends. Or, as Lizzie would say, colleagues.

2 - Legacy Friends

I am always amazed when I meet people who are still good friends with people they went to high school with. One of the Marines I worked with in Iraq went on a big hunting trip every year with 5 other guys he had played baseball with in high school. Our year in Iraq was the first time since high school he had missed the trip, and he was gutted.

Other than Barb, I don't really keep up with anyone from high school. Granted, the fact that I went to so many high schools made it challenging, but still. The fact that those friendships persist for some people is a wonderment to me.

There are some friends that are in our lives for a discreet time. The people we went to high school or college with. The people from that one summer job, or our neighbors when we were kids. Some of those relationships persist. I am SO grateful for all my friends from college, many of whom I am still very close with.

These friends don't have to persist to be impactful. Our hearts can be warmed with their memory long after they are no longer actively in our lives. They can still show us the way, even if they aren't right there with us.

3 - Community Connections

I am a big sports fan. Always have been. I grew up playing a variety of sports and was obsessed with them for most of my life.

One of the things I love most about being a fan is the instant community that I have with other sports fans. I can walk into any sports bar and know I will immediately have something to talk about, argue about, laugh about, and even cry about with people who just a few minutes ago were complete strangers. That shared passion for something creates connection.

Barb loves to scrapbook. She has been doing it since Alex was born. And through scrapbooking, she has had an entire community. She would attend weekend long scrapbooking retreats (called "crops") where she would work on her scrapbook surrounded by other folks doing the same. Alex has even come with her a few times. She gets to know the people there. She knows who has been sick, who has had a grandchild graduate, who has had a son get married. It is a community.

There is something about sharing our passions with others that creates connection. Sometimes, these relationships can grow into more. A crop can turn into a friendship. An argument about who's better, LeBron or Kobe? (it's LeBron) can be the starting point of something much more profound.

4 - Community of Commitment

Our hobbies and passions can create connection and even community. And that tendency toward relationship is supercharged when we are engaged in something more than just interest.

Shared passion can create deep, lasting, and life-changing friendships. These are the people we change the world with. Our fellow activists for causes we believe in. The people we go to church and share our faith with. For me, the people I served with. These are the people you trust with your life.

These communities can be challenging. They ask a lot of you. They need time and dedication. The work will leave you sweaty and tired. Sore - emotionally and physically. Worn out. Communities of commitment will ask you for all you have.

And they give back so much more. It is difficult to describe the elation it is possible to feel as part of a group coming together to do something impossible. To pull down a racist monument. To accomplish a difficult mission. To get a law changed. To march, advocate, care, connect, and grow.

It is these communities that bend the moral arc of the universe. It is with these people that you can feel the truth that we are an infinitesimal part of an infinite universe.

And there is glory in feeling that truth and being a part of something bigger than our own meager ability to add and subtract.

5 - Family of Choice

At the end of the line, at the top of the list of friends, is our family of choice. The people who become so close to us that it is hard to separate where we end, and they begin. The people whose contentment depends - at least in part - on our contentment. The people who smile when we smile and hold us when we cry.

Our family.

Family can share the same blood, but there's plenty of people I share DNA with who have shown that they are not my family over the years. And there are lots of people I don't remotely share DNA with who I would be lost without.

Families of choice play a crucial role in the lives of those of us for whom, for whatever reason, family of origin is not a reliable or safe option. Those who are on the margins, by choice or circumstance. Those who are isolated.

The people in our family of choice can start out in any of the other friend categories. They can be people we work with or had Psych 101 with or serve on the PTA with or who we once got in an argument about Giannis’ jump shot with. It doesn’t particularly matter where these friendships start.

What matters is that they are now family.

Our family of choice provides more than just connection and support. It provides meaning. Our family provides purpose and direction. They are our north star.

Our guiding light.

In the end, we all have moments where we are stumbling in the dark, trying to find the light. Trying to find the people and the communities that will guide us and support us and inspire us.

This week, I urge you to think about your communities and the different ways you connect to the world. Think about old friends, new students, lovers and co-conspirators. Think about all the people you do life with. The lights in your life.

And then do something. Tell them thank you. Reach out. Tell your friends what they mean to you. Don't let another moment go without sharing the way their love makes you feel.

Let your light shine in the darkness that surrounds. And always remember - the light is winning. It may be outmatched, outgunned. It may seem like the darkness is all there is. But light wins. YOU win when you turn your light on those around you.

Let your light shine this week. And tell your people you love ‘em. Always tell them you love them.

Be well, y’all. Have a great week, darkness be damned.

And keep pounding the rock.