When you’re in the presence of a genuine friend you are in the arms of safety. Of that, I’m certain. I’m also certain true friends are rare, but maybe not as rare as I’ve been believing. This past week I traveled across the U.S. with my 3-year-old granddaughter in tow. The airport was chaotic (trains broke, a ramp collapsed and madness ensued). As we were scuttled about, I got to witness a wondrous lesson over and over. Wherever we went, my little Adelaide found a friend.
The first time was when she spied a child her size and marched right up to her. “Hi, friend.” And just like that the two of them were on the floor sharing their toys.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults could do that?
If you know me, you know I tested the theory. I marched right up to the frazzeled, overworked, ticket agent and said, “Hi, friend.”
She scowled, looked at me over the edge of her glasses, and replied, “Take a seat, ma’am.”
I smiled and took a seat, but not before sensing at least a portion of what that poor woman was experiencing as she dealt with frustrated and often angry people expecting her to solve problems that were beyond her control.
Later at our second gate, Adelaide made friends with a little boy. Together, they stood by the window and watched planes land and take off. It was like they had known each other all their lives and couldn’t wait to share an experience.
All this got me wishing that we adult would look to celebrate both the things we have in common as well as our differences. I wish we’d stop building barriers and build bridges instead. That first little friend Adelaide made didn’t speak a word, not a single word, of English. That didn’t stop two little girls from becoming fast friends. That didn’t stop them from learning how to communicate and get along regardless of a language barrier.
Hours later I was cranky and exhausted but lil’ Miss A was still looking to make her next friend. She found a girl half her size. To me, they looked like they had nothing in common.
“How old are you?” Adelaide asked.
“I’m three,” said the girl.
And that was that. They’d found a foundation on which to build a friendship.
C.S. Lewis figured it out. Friendship is born “at the moment when one man says to another, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”
Friendship is hardwired into our biology—into our brains. We are created to feel empathy. fMRI tests prove that when your friends are threatened, you feel threatened. Your anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus go into overdrive, the same as if you were in danger. That’s friendship.
So all those hours weren’t wasted in an airport. They turned into lessons to teach me that we are the architects of our friendships. We choose our building materials: fears, judgments and prejudices or understanding, trust and love. Above all—empathy. So today is dedicated to you, my friends. The ones who have my back. Who read my words. Who keep me safe in an unsafe world. I hope that when you’re in my presence you feel safe and loved because you are.