I was assigned to write an essay answering The Big Question – the question of love, adventure, compassion, friendship, etc. Read about the question I chose, and how I answer it.
“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
What does it mean to be a friend? Which qualities are important when searching for a friendship? Exploring my beliefs towards friendship and the qualities I admire allowed me to make connections between the characteristics of a friendship and Steel Magnolias, a film released in 1989, showing the paths of many women in Louisiana and the epicenter of their relationships with one another: Truvy’s Beauty Parlor. Among these connections are stories from my personal life and stories from works we have read in class.
In “What It Means to be a Friend,” Jeremy Statton completely described what I believe the role as a friend entails: “The kind of friendship that matters is about selfless, sacrificial love. And I believe that is the only thing it is about. Love.” Statton is an orthopedic surgeon, has written a book or two, is a father of six, and appears on platforms such as ProBlogger and Prodigal Magazine. He continues to explain what it means to love friends selflessly and sacrificially in seven 7 notes:
- Friendship means showing up.
- Friendship means radical acceptance.
- Friendship means participating in their life.
- Friendship means giving sacrificially.
- Friendship means letting someone take advantage of you.
- Friendship means taking on problems that are not yours.
- Friendship means committing in the long run.
The first four of these further outline what I believe are important qualities to observe when searching for friendship, and these notes will be used to make connections between many different mediums:
There is presence in Steel Magnolias. The friendships formed are life-long and unending, fluctuating over time but never really falling below a constant high. After Shelby’s tragic, sudden death due to diabetes, the group of women grow closer together over the loss of a loved one. M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother, turns to her friends for all seven qualities above and depends on their presence – and their presence solely, in some instances – to overcome the shadow of grief and the inability to continue forward without her daughter.
There is acceptance in Steel Magnolias. M’Lynn is the typical mother, constantly fluttering with worry and love for her children and family. Truvy Jones owns a hair salon and this location serves as the meeting place for the group. Truvy acts as the epitome of a true Southern Woman, complete with “bless your heart” and always ready to meet tears and need for advice with good drinks and a set of hot rollers. Ouiser brings happy tears and also tears of frustration to the women, for she is fierce, passionate, and grumpy on a regular basis. Annelle is the newest member to the parlor “crew” and falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, far from Ouiser: she is extremely religious, painfully pure, and hilariously naive. Next is Clairee, widowed and dependent upon her friends for cheer and good times. Finally, Shelby is the daughter of M’Lynn and is as every daughter tends to be: strong, stubborn, independent, and determined to do what she believes is right in order to get what she wants. All of these women are from completely different stories and backgrounds and experiences. They come together and accept one another because in order for a friendship to exist, acceptance is crucial. Acceptance in the form of not being afraid to tell a friend a mistake you’ve made or a rebellious act you’ve committed, not having to worry about what you’re going to wear and whether the outfit will fit in, and not having to knock when you show up at his or her house in pajamas or what you wore the night before.
There is action in my own friendship. I met Tess as a freshman in high school and we’ve been like sisters ever since. Graduating a year early from high school created a strain on my relationships with people that still attended school, especially because I didn’t see them on a daily basis. I remained friends with Tess through this period because of her willingness to navigate around plans, jobs, homework assignments, and everything in-between in order to catch up and hang out together. I never felt as if I was carrying the friendship because of the action she put towards her place in my life, and this is something I appreciate and acknowledge in other friendships.
With action comes selflessness. When I started dating Stone, I understood the importance of being friends before partners. Exhibiting selflessness is especially necessary in relationships because so much of what I do is based out of what I think Stone needs or wants. Statton describes what it means to be a selfless and sacrificial friend: “To give sacrificially you will have to let go of something. You give without expecting anything in return. Maybe something you own. Maybe your own comfort. Maybe your pride. Maybe your life.” Not only do Stone and I depend on each other for advice and support, but also a helping hand with nothing expected in return; I take comfort in knowing that a person is taking steps with me and willing to do whatever, whenever. I saw selflessness when he woke before sunrise every day this summer, taking extra shifts and harvesting hay on his big, green tractor just so his brothers could sleep in late. I see selflessness when he sits next to my little sister at dinner, telling jokes and making her giggle after a long day at middle school, his smile bright and his eyes never glancing towards me, because he just might miss the latest seventh grade gossip. Selfishness: having no concern for self.
Friendship does not stop between mother and daughter; husband and wife; older and younger brother. It expands across the horizon all of the way to friendship between, for example, teacher and student. In an NPR interview, Mike Pesca sat down to talk with his middle school teacher, Mr. Sheehan. He called it, “Remembering When A Teacher Had His Back.”
“‘I want to thank you,’ Pesca tells him. ‘You were as good a teacher as I can imagine …You emphasized the virtues that I use to this day.’
‘You can only imagine how it feels to hear something like that,’ Sheehan responds. ‘I also want to thank you for being who you were…I still tell Pesca stories. You may not know this, but sometimes your example is really helpful to an alternative-school kid when people are all down on him.’”
“I also want to thank you for being who you were.”
One rarely hears another wish to go back to high school. The hallways are filled with dirty rumors, disapproving glares, and deadlines for assignments follow you constantly. It’s a lot of pressure, honestly. I was constantly struggling to fit in. Today I recognize the emotional abuse that was present in my one high school relationship. Today I remember going to prom alone, 6 days post-breakup, standing out of pictures because my best friend – if you can call her that – at the time deemed me “too tall and too awkward.” Today I think about how often I was taken advantage of simply because my heart was kind and my car was full of gas. This series of events junior year pushed me to make what I believe was a life-changing decision: I decided to complete my senior year of high school at home, taking four AP classes online. Never have I ever felt so completely isolated from a group of people. More times than not, I found myself wishing that I was a part of the spirit week pictures, or I was the girl standing against the fence at homecoming, cheering her team to victory.
Although this was a devastating experience for me, at no other time could I have realized just how important friendship is to me. I have a newfound eye for authenticity. I became a happier person. The space filled with crazy rumors and mean girls suddenly filled with a new love and appreciation for the people that surrounded me and cared for me unconditionally. I was hired by a family friend to act as a nanny for her newborn twins, and in that year, those boys taught me more about myself and how to love and be kind than I will be taught from anyone else. I became closer to my mother, if that’s even possible, and took advantage of the times we met for lunch downtown when my friends were still in math class and the moments where tears fell from our eyes from laughing too hard and loud. I fell more in love with my beautiful and perfect little sister, keeping her questions and curiosity and naievity close to my heart. Losing the people I was forced to befriend because of the consistency of being around them brought me closer to the friends that I underappreciated and took for granted. Jeremy Statton says it best:
“Being a friend is hard. It demands letting go of the self and saying yes to someone else. It isn’t fun. Nobody will give you a medal for doing it. But it is a choice any of us can make.”
- “Friendship Quotes.” GoodReads. GoodReads Inc., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/friendship
- “Remembering When A Teacher Had His Back.” NPR. 24 Nov. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.npr.org/2013/11/24/246984890/remembering-when-a-teacher-had-his-back>.
- Statton, Jeremy. “What It Means to Be A Friend.” Living Better Stories, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.jeremystatton.com/be-a-friend>.