by Sherry Chidwick
Every evening about 9:30, my elderly Labramutt begs me to take him for a walk before bed. It is a much slower stroll than the brisk walks of his youth, but we both still enjoy it. This particular evening a sweet scene was unfolding several houses down the block as we approached.
A middle-aged man was walking down the driveway to his car, parked on the street. A frail looking older woman was standing on the porch to watch him go. It appeared to be mother and son. The man, who hadn’t yet noticed us coming toward him on the dark street, stopped directly in our path and turned back toward the house. “Goodnight!” he called out to the woman on the porch. “I love you!” he continued with a final wave of his hand, “Goodbye!”
Just as she echoed his sentiments back to him, my dog and I came into view, illuminated by the porch light. We were clearly not part of this tender farewell and the timing was awkward, so on a whim, I decided to add a bit of levity.
“Goodnight!” I called to this woman I’d never met, boldly imitating her son. “I love you! Goodbye!” my voice rang out good-naturedly and I waved.
The woman was frail of frame, but her mind was quick and she didn’t miss a beat. She played along with a wide grin and called loudly, “I love you, too! Goodnight!”
I do hope she and I have the pleasure of meeting someday. We have already proclaimed our affection for one another and I am certain we both meant it.
Everything I know about building friendships, I learned from my daughter. She is grown now, but when she was young and I would take her to the playground, I saw the same pattern repeated again and again:
First, she would approach another child who appeared to be similar in age or interests and join in whatever that child was already doing. Within minutes, they would invariably be laughing together. Once the friendship had thus been established, I would hear my daughter ask, “Wanna go meet my mom?” The other child would agree and the two would skip, hop, or dance over to me. “Mama!” my daughter would call out, “Wanna meet my fwiend?” Proper pronunciation came later.
“Of course!” I would respond, then ask, “What’s your friend’s name?”
At this, my daughter would turn to face her playmate, grasp both of her hands, lean in, and with all the seriousness a three year old could muster, ask “Fwiend, what’s yo’ name?” Once introductions had been made, the two would scamper off again, hand in hand.
The decision to interact as ‘fwiends’ came first. Little details like her playmate’s name were inconsequential and could come later.
When we moved away from our home in suburban Washington to small-town rural Montana, I found that I was the one alone on the playground, wishing I had a fwiend. I looked around the park–cleverly disguised as my new church, where I knew no one–and noticed a mom with a daughter just a little older than my own. The woman looked friendly enough, and her daughter was showing kindness to my daughter, so I decided to make a move. I quickly reviewed the simple steps I had learned from watching my girl:
1. Find someone–anyone.
2. Come alongside and engage.
3. Make casual conversation and find something to laugh about.
4. Exchange names.
5. Join hands and enjoy life together.
I strode up to her, trying to hide my nervousness. “Hi,” I ventured, “I’m new here, but I couldn’t help noticing how sweet your daughter is being with my daughter, and I wanted to thank you for raising a girl with such a kind heart.”
She smiled warmly and we began to exchange thoughts about raising children. Within only a few minutes, we were chatting comfortably. Eventually, I extended my hand and said, “By the way, my name is Sherry.”
Despite the many obvious differences between us, we talked and laughed and that conversation launched a friendship that has lasted through thick and thin for fifteen years now.
Approaching friendship like a child seemed to work. When we moved to a city in Oregon a few years ago, I started a new job as a teacher at a local high school. In the week before school started, I found I had many more questions than answers and again, I knew no one. The librarian looked like a nice person and I enjoy books, so I strode into the library one morning and approached her desk. “Hi,” I began, “I am new and I don’t know anything or anyone, but I tend to view librarians as the Keepers of All Knowledge, so I am going to assume you are a person with answers. I wondered if I could come to you when I have questions.
She beamed. “Of course! How can I help you?”
Again, we were very different people, but in her, I have found another friend for life. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does!
Friends, I know not all of you identify as Christians, but most people would agree that Jesus of Nazareth had a lot of wisdom to give when he was walking this earth. Jesus spoke frequently about setting aside our adultish, self-centered, guarded, sophisticated ways, and adopting the mindsets of children instead. His followers spoke of the weak shaming the strong and the foolish shaming the wise.
As adults, we have worked very hard to learn to protect ourselves, but it tends to yield only isolation. Honestly, I see more value in finding community through my daughter’s approach. So, if you will excuse me, I need to go get acquainted with a dear older friend down the street.Having already established that we love each other so, all that is left is to get to know one another and ask, fwiend, what’s yo’ name?
Sherry Chidwick is a seeker of beauty and truth. Beauty is not always truthful and the truth is not always a thing of beauty, but wherever the two meet, she narrows her focus. Sherry is a high school teacher, a road trip junkie, and a big fan of both mountains and museums. As novice empty nesters, she and her husband are experimenting with full-time RV life in Salem, Oregon.