As I was thinking back on an enjoyable evening spent at a dinner party with new friends this weekend, I thought back to an old saying about friends – one being silver and the other gold. Yes, this is true, I thought, but then I realized that my array of friendships is even more colorful than silver and gold. It is filled with a plethora of colorful friends and friendships; a veritable garden of friendships. My friendship garden is filled with such a wide variety of relationships that, despite their seemingly incompatible nature, they coalesce to make a beautiful landscape for the soul. Perhaps it is the fact that the garden is full of such of variety of flowers – each with different qualities, strengths, and binding forces– that allows the garden to thrive through all of life’s seasons. As I reflect on all of the various friendships I am blessed to have in my life, I write this tribute to honor friends and friendships of all kinds, each with their own colors, fragrances, and beauty.
There are the golden, strong, and sturdy sunflowers of old friends whom I have known for most of my life; the friends whom I have known since grade school, high school or college, and who, despite the geographical distances that exist between us, remain a steadfast force in my life. We have grown up together without growing apart. A garden needs only a few sunflowers because of their powerful radiance, much like a person needs only a few old friendships due to their robust and potent endurance.
Like sunflowers, old friendships have strong stems and roots to support the radiant sunbeams that these friends spread over my life. Because my sunflower friends “knew me when,” they can more fully appreciate the me that I am now. Together, my sunflower friends and I have been through adolescent crushes and breakups, graduations, first jobs, first apartments, moves, weddings, children, and all of life that is left to be thrown at us. And, also like sunflowers, these friendships are ever present with their sunny petals of ve, support, encouragement, and hope.
Alongside the sunflower friends are the rosebushes of new friends – neighbors and friends met through shared activities – that flourish because of the constant attention that they receive given the synchronicity of our daily lives. There are new friendships that, like knockout roses, are relatively low maintenance and flourish, in large part, due to the continuity of daily schedules, complementary personalities, similar parenting styles, and shared extracurricular activities. There are also new friendships that are a bit more tenuous and require a little extra care and attention, but have the potential to grow into beautiful, lasting friendships.
My friendship garden is also filled with rugged daylilies that can survive harsh physical conditions. Like all of my swimming teammates at the University of Wisconsin who taught me the meaning of “hard core,” the daylilies in my friendship garden thrive in large part due to teamwork, with each flower only blooming for one day and the other flower buds waiting to take its place and maintain the plant’s vitality. Daylilies withstand tough physical conditions and are often pushed to limits at which other flowers might falter. Similarly, by together enduring grueling two and three hour training sessions twice a day, my Badger swimming teammates helped me learn the full extent of my physical capabilities. I learned that through dedication, practice, willpower, and self-confidence, my body was able to accomplish things that I had never dreamed possible. As we are now scattered throughout the country and across the globe, I am fortunate that we are able to maintain our connections through social media and occasional reunions.
Of course, there are tulips in my garden – bright, colorful flowers of friends who were with me through those life-changing months immediately following the birth of my eldest son. Some women slip effortlessly and seamlessly into motherhood; I was not one of those women. I struggled with constant exhaustion, unexpected loneliness, self-doubt, uncertainty, and a twinge of post-partum depression. Fortunately, I met a group of women when my first son was just a few months old and, like me, they were struggling with the same issues. After three years of weekly (or sometimes daily) outings together during which we talked, laughed, cried, and supported each other, lifelong friendships were cemented. Although we do not all live within close proximity to each other anymore, our friendship endures. Like tulips, our friendship bursts to life each spring when we get together to revel in the beauty of ourselves, our friendship, and all that we have become as mothers, wives, and women.
Gerbera daisies of familial friendships are the added pops of unexpected color throughout my garden. These flowers have grown out of expected, but authentic, friendships with siblings, in-laws and other family members. Their vibrant colors and classic shapes add a consistent and reliable brightness to the garden.
In the background of my friendship garden are the ornamental grasses of spiritual friendships – my Monday night small group friends, spiritual mentors, and other friendships made through connections at church. These wispy ornamental grasses are a constant source of beauty in my friendship garden; a glowing gold in the fall and winter, a peaceful green in the spring and summer. Like ornamental grasses, my spiritual friends are a sometimes overlooked, but ever-present and all-encompassing source of nourishment for my soul. The ornamental grasses of my spiritual friendships round out the garden and tie the entire landscape together; without the ornamental grasses, the other flowers would not be able to stand out as brightly as they do.
And, of course, there are the new buds of friendships yet to be made. Some are promises of relationships that will grow into strong, floral foundations of the garden; others may be passing acquaintances who, nonetheless, will provide a brief, but essential, contribution to the health of the garden.
Like any robust and thriving garden, the friendship garden requires the proper amount of care in order to cultivate each of the flowers in the garden. As busy lives consume us, we tend to neglect our friendships and the valuable places that they hold in our current lives and our personal histories. We forget that sometimes all it takes is a short email, a quick note, a smile, or a compliment to nurture a friendship. Like different floral varieties, different friendships require varying amounts and kinds of care and we must be sensitive to the needs of each individual friendship in order to maintain a vibrant and robust garden of friendships.
So I ask you this: who is in your friendship garden? Do you spend the proper amount of time cultivating the garden, or do you allow the weeds of gossip, jealousy, and lack of communication to creep in and overtake the garden so that it becomes an ugly burden, rather than a pleasure?
Cultivating the friendship garden takes time, compassion, sensitivity, and an openness to one’s own vulnerabilities, but with the necessary amount of care, it can provide joy, not just to those engaged in the relationships, but to everyone who bears witness to the relationships. To all of the flowers of my friendship garden, I thank you for your contributions of beauty and happiness to my life.