There was a time in my life when I believed I was a very good friend. I had a couple "close" friends who I think knew I would always listen to their problems, and while can be a sign of a good friend, I eventually realized that friendships can get strained when one person does most of the talking and the other does most of the listening. Even the best listeners need to talk sometimes, and they too need someone to listen. There was another event at that time in my life that changed my belief that I was good at friendship, and it is one that I talk about very cautiously because it involves a friend I lost, and his memory is not something I want to casually discuss for blog views. But his death did play a role in how I viewed my abilities as a friend, and tiptoeing around that would prevent me from portraying that process honestly.
Even though I knew his death was not something I could have prevented, there is still some dark corner in the back of my brain that sometimes tries to convince me that because I did not help him, because I did not even know he was hurting until it was too late, I must not be a good friend. How could a true friend overlook what must have been such a deep hurt?
One of the most beneficial factors in putting those thoughts to rest when they rise up was a psychology professor I had at Richard Bland. With sensitivity and an impressive knowledge of her field, she taught my class about how the chemicals in our brains can get out of balance just like the rest of our bodies can get sick, and even though I can't explain what she taught me very eloquently, it helped me tremendously. It took the shame out of my friends death, and allowed me to miss him without trying to place blame, whether it be on myself, him, or some other person. It allowed me to slowly start trying to make connections again.
I am still learning how to be a good friend, and even though it seems like something that should just come naturally, it often seems very confusing to me. I worry about being too vulnerable and sharing my most sensitive thoughts and feelings with the wrong people. I sometimes get frustrated when I see social media posts about friends who claim to be so close in every way, and I constantly have to remind myself that comparison is not helping me and the internet often only tells half of the story. I took a class last week for my new job, and at one point the teacher talked about how making connections in the workplace takes practice. I think the same thing is true for friendships. And I think just maybe, as we discover the people who are patient with our practice, including the mistakes that come with it, we discover our true friends.