The dictionary has a great deal to say about the word friend:
friend |frend| noun
- a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
- a person who acts as a supporter of a cause, organization, or country by giving financial or other help: join the Friends of Guilford Free Library.
- a person who is not an enemy or who is on the same side: she was unsure whether he was friend or foe.
- a familiar or helpful thing: he settled for that old friend the compensation grant.
- (often as a polite form of address or in ironic reference) an acquaintance or a stranger one comes across: my friends, let me introduce myself.
- a contact associated with a social networking website: all of a sudden you’ve got 50 friends online who need to stay connected.
It’s a relatively small word, but it evolves with us as we grow and mature. When we’re young we have play dates and swap pudding cups for jello snacks. As we get older we acquire BFFs and inseparable other halves represented in little broken heart necklaces. In college we wander through a myriad of meaningful and monotonous interactions that stick or don’t. We move past college into some semblance of work force and we develop new levels of friendships, various rings of intimacy and import.Like most girls my age I’ve gone through a great many friends. Some had terrible endings, others grew apart, and yet more will stay in my life forever as mile markers on the road of my life. This era of networking and social media has fooled us into thinking the number of Friends on our Facebook page reflects the number of people we could turn to if our world fell apart and, I’m sad to report, this is a gross fabrication for most of us. Facebook currently claims I have 1,217 friends. That word, in this context, means something different than the friends of yore, something other than the people who know your inner workings and can anticipate your needs. Different even than the people who have met your immediate family and understand where you come from. Different still from the people you see every day and from whom you hide your little eccentricities. (If you look at the definition I provided, it’s the newest addition to the growing list of nuances associated with the word.)
So, what is a friend to me now? Here? How has this most recent life event changed my perception of the word and its weight?
I’m not proud to admit that when I first came to site I didn’t have high hopes for making actual friends. This is mainly because of my age and gender, it didn’t seem a viable option to be able to relate to another woman in a way that would make me consider them a real, genuine friend; someone I could come to with problems and sorrows as well as successes. And this is one of my biggest lessons so far, one I should have learned in kindergarden: Never judge a person or situation too quickly. Never judge a book by its cover.With a great deal of time and shared effort, I have made genuine friends here. Even when something happens back home I can turn to Bu Dewi and Bu Diah here and rely on them for support. They will make excuses when I need to be alone, they try and understand my point of view, they help me navigate the cultural landscape, they have become my pillars in my community. I’m friends with their families and we spend time together outside of school. I’ve even been on a brief vacation with Bu Dewi. They have taken me under their wings and the result on me has been astounding.
Indonesians are generally a very hospitable people and often very generous. One of the questions I get a lot is, “Miss, do you feel at home here?” The answer may vary from day to day but I can honestly say that the reason I ever feel betah (at home) here at all is because of my friends.Another new discovery is the bond I have found with the other PCVs here. I am so lucky to have been placed in Indonesia, in such a very small community. I have read about other countries with over 100 volunteers for each group and I can’t imagine being in one so large. I can easily picture feeling lost in the shuffle of hundreds of feet and unimportant among the masses. But here, there are only 45 other volunteers from my group now. In the West we have a close-knit family of 19. You couldn’t get lost in this crowd if you tried. So, where on the spectrum of friends do these folks fit? Are they the Facebook friends of new or something else? Something different? Something closer to family. It’s a very strange dichotomy to have with such a big group and one the I will now venture to explain. When I first arrived at staging in San Francisco, I met a group of 50 other like-minded nut cases. When we got to Indonesia we had some sensitivity training on how to be effective “allies” in this country and environment. These people have grown to become my family here. They’re the people that understand what I’m going through and how to help. We have a bond that is forged in hardship and in success, one that was thrust upon us by circumstance and became very strong in a very short amount of time. I imagine it could be akin to a grown up and more intense version of what going to a summer camp could feel like. Or a more permanent connection similar to the what happens when you’re in a play with someone. You experience all of these traumatic events, these peaks and valleys of emotion and you turn to those nearest you to cushion the fall. That is what these people have become. My rocks and my cushions, my family and my friends, my safety and my courage. But I met each of them for the first time 10 months ago. None of these people know what I was like in High School, or in College, they haven’t met my parents or my family. They don’t understand the series of events that crafted the woman they met until I explain it to them. And even then, how can that ever be enough? If something goes wrong at home, I have to take the time to explain the myriad of ways it affects me and why before they can even begin to understand what to do or why it hurts. And I’m just not that fond of talking. But even so, they find a way to exist when I need them to and give me space when I require it. Then there are my friends back home who know and love me. They have weathered the test of time, trials beyond count, and stand by me for everything I am and, more importantly, everything I am not. But they’re not here. There is so much life that is happening here and so little I can do to explain it accurately. I can put it into words and explain as much as I’m able but nothing I ever do will be enough. So I’m learning to be more flexible about people and relationships. Not everything is as easy as a heart necklace proclaiming your love for your BFF. But the complication makes them all so beautiful. I have a rainbow of friends and relationships: old ones, new ones, strained ones, close ones. I have people I know I will never lose, people that will stand up and fight for me, and people who will remind me to fight on my own.
I am not an island, even when I live on one, and for that I am so grateful. Every single one of these people has watched me grow and learned about me as I learn about them. Whether it’s been over the past ten months or the past ten years; whether we speak the same language or a mix of many.