RE-Defined: FRIENDSHIP

I have quite a few people whom I call friend. There are friends who I never speak to, but still hold the title. A woman named Mika fits into this category. We’ve known each other since we were six. We went to the same schools, up until senior year. She attended my wedding and I attended hers. Her husband even edited my dissertation for free because I didn’t have money at the time. However, I haven’t verbally spoken with her in about two years. We haven’t seen each other in even more time. Still, I know she’s my friend.

I have other friends who begin text messages as if we spoke yesterday.

“KG, what did I say in this last post that could’ve been negative or offensive?” my friend Calvin asked the other day. Excluding the are you okay because a hurricane is covering your state convo, we haven’t had a real conversation in about eight months. We lol’d and emoji’d for the next few hours. He described how his oldest daughter was doing at her private university and I shared how my oldest is doing living on her own going to community college. In between, we talked about how ridiculous Facebook has gotten, and then hours later we said ttyl and good night.

New ImageMy other friend, Wanda’s birthday is six days before mine. That’s how our friendship began. For years, she and I would road trip to Atlanta or Orlando with a couple of other women to celebrate. After a while, that ended. But our friendship remained. Currently, we talk on the phone every now and then. We go out to eat occasionally. She was one of my number one supporters when I released The Unhappy Wife book, wearing the t-shirt all around Jacksonville, and holding conversations with anyone who would listen and purchase a copy. I know if anything ever happened, this chick would not only hide the body, but also regulate her breathing so she could pass the lie detector test.

I also have friends that are former high school students. I haven’t taught at that level for eleven years, and it took me a minute to be comfortable with calling these women friends, because of society’s rules. But I’ve had to admit that’s who they’ve come to be. Each is nearing 30, and as individual relationships grow, I’ve noticed that every woman mirrors a part of me. One is eccentric, wishes for no one’s opinion, and lives life unabashedly on her own terms. Another is a goal-setter, with her life paved out. The last one’s challenging home life used to dictate who she was and how she lived, but not anymore; she lives consciously and takes responsibility for her energy and space. Reflection is an understatement. They are me; and I am them.

I have another friend who I’ve never met! I’ve talked about her before. She’s a WordPress blogger named Mek. We haven’t met because she lives on a different continent. For a while, we talked at least once a day through an app. Then, our relationship stabilized and now we reach out when there is time. Our conversations include a lot of riiights and high-fives because, for the most part, we get each other. She knows all about my family’s successes and challenges, and I know about hers. We cheer each other on when there’s something that requires pom-poms and listen when there’s something that requires an ear. Without hesitation, she is my friend.

A few years ago, I would’ve argued that everyone is not your friend. I used to apply a static set of rules to all friendships. How could we be friends if you don’t follow my blog? How could we be friends if I haven’t talked to you in three years? Over time, I’ve learned that’s not fair to the person or the relationship, and it’s a bit unrealistic. People are different, and consequently, so are the ways in which they relate to others.

What I’ve realized is friendships are fluid. While each friendship has been created out of mutuality, no two friends are alike and that should be respected. Because of this, I’ve learned to appreciate each friend’s individual personality as a constant gift of love that ebbs and flows throughout my life. In that way, I’m grateful for each person, no matter how and when they show up.

This is how I now define friendship. How do you define a friend? What makes someone your friend? Have your “requirements” changed over time?

One thing I know for sure

What I know for sure is that we are all connected.
What you are going through, I guarantee you someone else has already gone through it, or they are currently figuring it out.

I learned this out around 2008 when my husband was laid off from his job. Under normal circumstances an unexpected layoff wouldn’t have mattered. But these were not normal circumstances. Instead, I was finishing up coursework for a PhD and about to write and defend a prospectus for my research.

But I couldn’t.

Or so I thought. Being who I am, I sought a job with the county with which I used to teach. I asked a principal to hire me. She did. I became a School Instructional Coach.

Here, at this job is where I met someone who would be as influential to me as I was to her. Her name was Tarra Jones. At that time, the county was invested in Reading First and she was the elementary school’s Reading Coach.

Our desks faced one another. Literally. We sat in a huge room full of elementary leveled books and our desks kissed. If I was siting at my desk and she  at hers, we faced each other, eye to eye.

I thought it was interesting that I would be roomies with a preacher’s wife because I don’t believe in organized religion. My family was Methodist. As a teenager, I generally went to church. My mom was the Sunday school teacher and my dad was the youth coordinator, so to speak, but somewhere in between that and my facing this preacher’s wife, I stopped believing in organized religion.

Tarra Jones was an interesting co-worker. She wanted to act. She was a gifted singer. And she resonated song. If she wasn’t playing some song from her 1990’s boom box housed at the feet of her desk, then she was humming, singing or full-on belting out a tune from something.

For someone who works in quiet, this was disruptive, but more so, unexpected. Here was this grown woman singing and dancing and full of life. Here was a woman who was full of her purpose, sitting right in front of me. Our “office” was her stage. If I said I was sad, then she would sing a song about being sad. If it was Christmas, then the boom box and her voice resounded Christmas songs. She was clearly meant to sing.

I remember asking her, “If you believe so much in faith, then why don’t you step out on faith and become a singer? An actress?”

One day, Tarra did just that. She decided to audition for Dreamgirls. Of course, she got it. After hearing her prepare for the audition and rehearse for the musical, there was little doubt she would be a perfect “Effie” in the show. The musical was astounding. Her performance, I believe, is what sent it and her, over the top.

Fast forward to today, and as I write this she is preparing to act in Cotton Club Cabaret. In between, she’s played “Big Pearl” in The Buddy Holly Show, “Sofia” in The Color Purple, the “angel” in Black Nativity, and a host of other things that have showcased her passion and talent.

But this is what I want to leave you with. A year and a half later, I had to ask myself what I’d asked her. “If this is what you want to do, then why are you here?”

A year and a half later, I left that district-coaching job. A year and a half later, I conducted research, analyzed research and wrote research in order to complete my PhD. How my family and I made it is another blog entry. That we made it is a testament of how I stepped out on faith.

Tarra Jones always tells this story as if it is an impetus to her becoming who she is. However, the way I remember it was also a gentle nudge for me to become who I am. It is here that I learned that we are all connected; all we have to do is be present, listen and take heed.