Tracy Lawrence perhaps said it best — cheezily but truly — when he noted that in adversity,
You find out who your friends are,
Somebody’s gonna drop everything
Run out and crank up their car
Hit the gas, get there fast,
Never stop and think “What’s in it for me?” or “it’s way too far”
They just show on up with their big old heart
You find out who your friends are.
Or, in the words of a beautiful Steve LaRocque play I worked on a few years ago, “Life is largely a matter of who shows up” — and, as a very important corollary, who doesn’t show up. When everything’s not coming up roses and life does rain on your parade, who’s going to rally to your side instantly? Some of us have many — hopefully all of us have at least a few — of those people.
I look back on the last, oh, quarter-of-a-century, and I think, like Whitman, that I no doubt deserve my enemies, but I don’t believe I deserve my friends. When I think of all the spontaneous embraces and the four a.m. phone calls and the crazy random road trips that have carried me through the worst when times have been colossally crappy, I am overcome with a sense of proper gratitude and circumspection for how fortunate I have been to have such an incredible network of friends. It has never been so abundantly manifest to me as the past year, when I saw friend after friend bolster and buoy me through some very difficult times, selflessly offering their time, money, encouragement, support, and most of all, themselves. When we’re tempted to dwell on the negatives — who in our lives has let us down, who we’re disappointed by, who we feel abandoned by, who we wish was by our side — sometimes it behooves us to remember that for every one who doesn’t stick around, there are a dozen who will. All of us are battered, broken screw-ups in some regard or another, and none of us are ultimately deserving of the love we have so freely been offered over the years, but for some reason unbeknownst to us, a few kind (or crazy) souls will go on offering it anyway. You’re never really alone, even when you most feel like it. So don’t worry about who’s going to show up; the people who are meant to will. Some people will only make a cameo appearance in your life, but the ones who count will be treading the boards with you from the opening number to the grand finale.
Walker Percy once wrote that we love those who know the worst of us and don’t turn their faces away — words, indeed, to live by. At my worst, I can be pretty damn icky. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I can be flaky and indecisive. I can be dishonest. I can be a drama queen. I can be impossible to handle. I can (and do) have the emotional lability of a manic-depressive on speed. I’m not always a good friend to myself or others. I have hurt some of the people I love most in the world — especially in recent years. But at the end of the day, the people who love me have forgiven me for my stupidest stunts, weathered through my best attempts to drive them away, and refused to leave my side in spite of my flaws, my shortcomings, my failures. That’s what real friendship looks like. And I have some damn fine friends.
The funniest thing about all of this is that in the fullness of time, we become the person our friends see. We become worthy of care by being cared for. We become worthy of trust by being trusted. We become worthy of love by being loved. Our dearest friends thus become a mirror held up to ourselves, showing us the truth amidst all the distortions. In Russian literature, there’s a concept called the “unfinalizability of the human person,” which basically upholds that the only person you can ever truly know is yourself, and that your own self-perception is the most accurate one. I would dare to challenge that in a court of law; I think our own eyes have prohibitive scales obscuring our vision, and that it’s the vision of those who love us that is the true one. Identity crises become impossible when you recognize that you are loved, that you have a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable spot in the cosmos and in the hearts of those who love you. And when we love and support one another, we plumb through all the bullshit and create a transtemporal symphony of our truest selves.
So, the country canard is right: when the rubber meets the road …you find out who your friends are. Disappointing, sometimes, disillusioning, absolutely. But the ones who matter will stick, no matter what. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, be who you are and say what you feel, because the folks who mind don’t matter, and the folks who matter don’t mind.
Lest we forget.