Friday, January 27, 2012

Girlfriends

I will be celebrating my BFF’s birthday Saturday. We go back a long way, more than half a century, to a time when two four-year-olds, one with dimples and dark curls and one with stick-straight blonde hair and a too-wide mouth, shared a consuming desire to play tambourine in the kindergarten rhythm band. “Cool” wasn’t in our vocabularies yet, but we knew the six five-year-old girls who played the tambourines were the ones who got the attention and the praise. They were who we wanted to be. We learned a lot of things that year—how to tell right from left, how to print our names, and how to please the teacher. The latter skill helped us move from lowly rhythm-stick players to the coveted tambourine positions the next year. But the most important thing we learned was that best friends were for sharing books, telling stories, giggling over boys, and keeping secrets.

All these years later, after decades of sharing triumphs and trip-ups, births, and deaths, a lifetime of laughter and more tears that we could have dreamed of at four, we still understand the role of best friend. We are very different women who have led very different lives. We disagree about religion, politics, hairstyles, music, and who Lynn H. really liked best in second grade. But we never run out of things to talk about, we can finish each other’s sentences, and we know with absolute certainty that the place we hold in one another’s heart, like the place we hold in one another’s history, is large and sure.



The summer of 2010, I went to a reunion. Not a class reunion--this one was much smaller. It was a reunion of a small group with whom I shared a big part of my life from elementary school through high school. Most of us attended the same church and our parents were friends. We grew up feeling at home in one another’s houses, being disciplined and comforted by one another’s parents, sharing tea parties and softball, football games and barefoot dancing at the swimming pool, hugs and heartbreaks. After high school, we kept in touch, although more and more sporadically as our lives moved in different directions.

But occasional lunches when everyone was in town, Christmas letters, and church homecomings kept us part of one another’s lives. That summer gathering was golden, hours and hours of talking and laughing and looking at photographs of the girls we were and the women we had become. Husbands and SOs joined in. There were no awkward silences or uncomfortable moments, just old friends enjoying one another. Of the five married couples in the group, three got together during those halcyon days and still have the kind of relationship that had them exchanging glances across the room and dancing in the moonlight. How wonderful to be reminded that HEAs do happen in real life too. Another, who was widowed, had just returned from her honeymoon, a motorcycle trip to Las Vegas. I’m going to use her in a book one day.
College, grad school, teaching years—at every stage of my life there have been women friends who added color and meaning to my life. Some of my closest friends now are women whom I’ve never met face-to-face, but with whom I exchange emails, share dreams, and rant and rave about the disasters and delights of our reading, our writing, and our lives.

Friends not only make us happier; they also make us healthier. Studies have shown that, for women, talk and touch release the hormone oxytocin (the same hormone that initiates labor in pregnant women).  Oxytocin reduces stresss, calming both mind and body. Hugs and chats really are good for you. Spending time with our girlfriends also fosters the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being. A Dove study suggested that women friends also increase our self-esteem. Among the women in the study, 75 percent felt prettier because of other women. Yet another study reported that the more friends a woman has, the less likely she is to develop physical impairments as she ages. Some experts suggest that women who lack these close friendships are placing themselves at a risk for health problems equal to that of smoking.

In real life and in online communication, I spend a lot of time laughing with my friends. For me, shared laughter is an essential part of intimacy. I can’t imagine a close relationship that didn’t include laughter. Did you know that the benefits of laughter are similar to the benefits of exercise? One study found that over the course of a year, laughter increased levels of good HDL cholesterol by 26 percent and decreased C-reactive proteins, a measure of inflammation linked to both heart disease and diabetes risk by 66 percent. And while some people claim that the internet is a threat to friendship, research indicates that, especially for women, online friendships after a year become comparable in quality to real-life friendships. Self-disclosure rather than face time seems to be the key to quality friendships.
So if you’re feeling good, have a healthy self-esteem, and are looking forward to more happy years, take time to say thanks to your girlfriends. You owe some of that health and happiness to them.

This Saturday, I’ll be singing “Happy Birthday, dear Nancy” to my BFF. Today I’m saying thank you to her and to Beth, Anne, Peggy, Sheron, Martha, and dear Micki (who left us last year); to Mary, Sandy, Linda, Trisha, Judy, Marty, Kay, Claudia, Rachels, Shannon, Mary Anne, Sylvia, and Wilma (RIP); to Elizabeth, Beth F., Effie, and Marge; to Linda, Bette, Joanne, Pat, Lane, and Janet; to Dana, Brenda, the Pats, Patsy, and Bonita; to the Bon Bons, the Vanettes, and my Safe Zone sisters; and to others too numerous to name. I am indeed blessed to call you all friend.
Friends, I will remember you,
think of you, pray for you,
and when another day is through,
I'll still be friends with you.
--John Denver




How important do you consider friends in your life? What do you think are the most essential qualities of friendship?


24 comments:

Julianne said...

It is very difficult to write what with one's eyeballs swimming in tears!

Love to you, my dear friend!

PJ said...

Yeah, what Julianna said. :)

Honestly, Janga, you really need to start including tissue alerts with these blogs. Beautiful tribute!

TerriOsburn said...

Exactly. A beautiful and heart-lifting (if tear inducing) start to my Friday. You're one special lady, Janga. I'm so lucky to have you in my life.

MsHellion said...

Okay, clearly, I'm heartless because I didn't weep, but I smiled the whole time and went: EXACTLY and thought of a half-dozen people--FRIENDS--I wanted to send this to. I love it. A beautiful tribute!

*HUGS* Thank you, Friend.

Santa said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - you are the one of my dearest friends I've yet to meet. LYG, dearest! We are equally blessed in this.

Julianne said...

"She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved

Manda Collins said...

What a wonderful tribute to friendship, Janga! I am so proud to call you friend. LYG, Manda

Janga said...

And to you, J. You bring such joy into my life, my friend.

Janga said...

Thanks, PJ. And I'm grateful for your friendship.

Janga said...

Thanks, Ter. The luck--or, as I prefer to think of it, the blessing--is reciprocal. LYG

Janga said...

Never heartless, Hellie!And if the post made you think of friends who fill your life, it did exactly what I hoped it would do. I'm so glad you're my friend.

Janga said...

Same here, San. LYG right back. And don't we love that phrase that Julianne gave us that says what we feel, makes us laugh, and evokes memories all at once!

Janga said...

The Morrison quote is beautiful, J. Thank you.

Janga said...

Thanks, Manda. You are a blessing in countless ways. LYG right back.

And four days to your official debut as Manda Collins, published author. Now that gives us all reason to smile. :)

kakiwarner said...

What a beautiful tribute. (Thanks PJ for posting the link). The older I get the more I need my girlfriends. They hold a part of my history no one else knows (thank God), and were part of making me who I am. I do the same for them. I lost my dearest friend to cancer ten years ago, but she's still with me every day. So this is a tribute to her, as well. Thanks for putting it into such beautiful words.

Janga said...

Thanks, Kaki, and thanks for stopping by. By the way, I loved Colorado Dawn. I gushed about it on GoodReads.

See what great friends I have. PJ sent Kaki Warner to my blog. :)

Kathleen O said...

My freinds are the most important part of my life... I have some difficult times in my lfie and would not have got through them whith out my friends... We have shared many, many good times together too..

I not long been off the phone with one of my BFF's and it always makes me feel good to talk to them each week.. Even though we might not see each other so much the last few years, I know if I picked up the phone and called, she will be there for me no matter what.

Carey Baldwin said...

Oh I love this post. The other day my BFF since 7th grade (we have grown children now, she has grandchildren) came in from out of town to help me buy my wedding dress. I was her bridesmaid at 18. I have new friends, through writing, that are like family, and old friends that are like family. I couldn't get by without any of them. Thanks for the post!

Janga said...

Kathleen, I think you're right. It's knowing they are there through good times and bad that makes them truly friends. You are blessed to have such friends in your life.

Thanks for stopping by.

Janga said...

How wonderful that a friend of so many years is there to share this special time in your like, Carey. And I know what terrific people and writers some of your writing friends are. You are blessed in old friends and new.

Thanks for your comment.

irisheyes said...

Tears for me too! What a beautiful post, Janga!

The winter blahs and cabin fever had been getting me down. My solution, you ask? - Breakfast with one girlfriend and then lunch the following week with another! Works every time. Just the thought of going out to eat and gab with my gals brightens my day. So I think you are certainly right about the health benefits.

I lost my BFF last year to cancer. She still brightens my days through memories and her daughter, who through the years has become a BFF to my daughter. Makes me smile just to type that. I've been watching and cataloging (?) family videos this past week and have video of them from when they were weeks old (they were baptized together) to just this past year (they are both 16). We've taken vacations together and spent holidays together. All I could think of is what a truly remarkable bond they will have when they're my age. Takes away that smidge of guilt that I never gave my daughter a sister. LOL

You and your words, my friend, are a gift I treasure every day. I only wish I could go share a meal with you and talk about books and life for hours and hours! I've gotten the stink eye from more than 1 waitress in my life and I'd suffer it again gladly!

Janga said...

Irish, how lovely that your daughter and the daughter of your BFF are friends. Having her daughter as part of your life must be like having a part of your friend still with you.

I'd love to have that lunch and long talk. Maybe someday . . . In the meantime, I'm thankful for the words and world we've shared online.

quantum said...

My old girl friends were discretely removed from the address book a long time ago. *LOL*

I still keep in touch with a few friends from school and college days and Mrs Q occasionally attends an annual reunion of old school mates (she attended a girls school).

I wonder if maintaining a large network of friends may be a feminine trait. Mrs Q has a huge network such that the walls of our house are covered with Christmas cards when Santa comes. We use them as Xmas decoration.

LYG is a new abbreviation for me (Love You Girl?). I'm always learning something new on these blogs!

I would be great to meet you all in person one day, and introduce you to Mrs Q.

Like Terri said "You're one very special lady, Janga!"

LYG *smile*

Janga said...

Thanks, Q. I'd love to meet you and Mrs. Q one day. With books and grands, we all have so much in common. :)

A number of studies support your idea of their being differences in men's and women's friendships. I'm not sure about numbers, but men tend to do things with their friends--play golf, play cards, watch a football game,and so on. Women talk and part of that talk is self-disclosure. One article I read characterized the difference as face-to-face for women (metaphorically in the case of online friendships) and side-by-side for men.