Friends Are the Family We Choose

I recently took a mental inventory of the people who have had the greatest positive influence on my life. Of them, the majority were friends.

Some of us have parents and siblings with whom we spend valuable time, and there’s a comfort there like none other. For others of us, we have not had a family of birth which has been a part of our adult lives.

When my mother died, my cousin came to talk to me. Holding one pencil, he said, “If you try to make it by yourself, you’ll break easily like this pencil.” Then he picked up a handful on pencils and said, “But if you stick together with your family and friends, you won’t be able to be broken.” This has certainly been true for me in the 45 years since.

Over the past weekend, about 20 friends traveled from North Carolina and other parts for a marathon in Cincinnati. The highlight, of course, was the 26.2 mile run on Sunday, in which five of us ran together for over four hours. As we were running, I couldn’t help but think about how unlikely it is that I’d be with four friends, haling from Pennsylvania, California, England, and New Jersey. No one would have predicted such a thing when I was a child growing up in Greensboro, NC.

There were other highlights to the weekend, too. For example, we hung out in the living room of my friend Sarah’s mother-in-law and it felt like every relaxed family gathering you’ve ever had. The whole experience of our trip was the sort of family vacation you want, even though we weren’t technically family.

In a world where we are able to watch any movie or TV program on-demand at home, where church attendance goes down every year, and where we are now able to get college degrees without ever setting foot at home, we may find ourselves isolated. Cultivating and nurturing friendships will keep you from this.

When I was young, I feared that the chaotic and often-dangerous behavior of my family might prevent others from accepting me. As it turned out, my neighbors took me into their homes for meals, invited me to church, and watched out for me in ways I didn’t realize until I was an adult. Later, high school friends like Patti, Diane, and Anna made me feel a part of their families.

I look back on the decades since and realize that my friends have indeed become my family. We tend to each other’s mutual welfare, bring out our best qualities, and spend hours pursuing wholesome activities. For those with children, I see the young ones grow and feel a sense of pride as if their were my own.

They say that a friend knows the words to the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you forget the words. On a daily basis, these friends sing to me strong and sweet such that the song in my heart becomes the soundtrack of my life.

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