Saturday, April 2, 2011

On Maintaining the Garden of Friendship

As the weather warms and green shoots poke through the ground, I know it will soon be time to reconsider the garden. Regardless of what I choose to do, the perenniels will reemerge—some in perfection; others, overtaking and crowding out their neighbors; yet others, spindly and dying. I can sit back and see what happens, or I can take charge and decide what will make this a pleasing space. It will take work; I will have to cut back last year’s tangles, mulch, weed, and deadhead.

I can be ruthless and rip out plants that no longer work for me or have lived their useful lifespan, either leaving the space bare or replacing them. At first, I can’t be certain about the new choices. They look pretty enough in the catalogue, but who knows how they will turn out. They, especially, will need nurturing to reach their potential and flourish on their own. It’s a risk. Maybe I shouldn’t have junked the known quantity so quickly—the plant I destroyed. Maybe it was salvagable if I’d treated it differently.

Of course, there are the annuals—they are colorful all summer and bring me joy, but with their shallow roots, they need even more attention if they are to persist even the length of the season. Still, it’s the mix I like, and that’s the price I pay.

My friends are like the plants in my garden. There are those I have known for years and can count on to continue to be there for me (as I will for them). Although I can neglect them for periods of time, I cannot take them for granted.

Other friendships will die a natural death. We no longer have anything meaningful to give each other.

Then there are those I struggle with. These friendships may still have some life, but can I reap from them what I sow? Will I end up resenting them rather than being grateful?

The annuals of friendship are often associated with specific settings and add a sense of fun and belonging, but they can’t be counted on in difficult times. I’ll enjoy these for what they are, not investing much and not expecting much either.

Finally, there are the new friendships—few and far between these days. I think carefully about these and what they will add to my already rich bounty. They will take time from my existing friendships before I know their promise.

As someone who evaluates the merit of programs for a living, I have four simple criteria for considering the worth of my friends in my life. I know there are other characteristics we might expect from long-term friends, but the following can be applied even to newish friends.

Emotional Honesty: Can we be truthful with each other? Are we “real?” That does not mean we share every secret, but it does mean we do not disguise who we are and that we can be comfortable in our skins around each other.

Appreciation/Acknowledgement: Do we say nice, but sincere things to each other? Do we acknowledge the importance of the friendship?

Responsiveness: Is there a give and take to our communications? Do we listen and react to the other person and not keep the show focused on ourselves? Do we take an interest in each others’ lives?

Enthusiasm: Are we excited to hear from or see each other?

I look forward to cultivating both of my gardens, and by the end of May, I hope to invite friends—both old and new—to bear witness to the results.

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