Grace will always find its way through chaos.
As an atheist, I tend to seek the divine in fellow humans. And it is in them, in you, that I find solace in my darkest hour. Family, friends, and even the existence of benevolent random strangers sustain me.
My beliefs are tangible and alive. They rest on our shared capacity for good, warmth, and compassion. And they’re made manifest every time kindness happens, whatever its source.
During the five years I lost to depression and lived an airtight life with only another human and two cats in it, I yearned for friendship. I ached for it, I longed for it, I craved it but all the humans I knew and loved were half a world away.
Utterly lost and mostly housebound, I was unfit to socialize.
Because I didn’t know what to make of what was happening to me, I fell silent with everybody but my best friend of over two decades, who lived in the UK. Anthony and I knew each other inside out, had no filter, and could share everything without shame or fear of judgment. And during all those years, we always had each other’s back, no questions asked.
Cancer killed him last September, and a part of me died with him. The only reason I didn’t sink is because I couldn’t afford to as my stepmom is gravely ill and my parents need me to remain functional.
But whenever life gets particularly challenging, grief will spring forth from the shadows and sock me in the jaw. Anthony was the person I would have turned to for clarity and support. His absence hurts just as much today as it did when he passed away.
The friendship that bound us together for most of my adult life was a form of unconditional love; we were kin.
Life abhors a vacuum, or so the saying goes.
While there can never be another Anthony, getting back to writing has enabled me to break through isolation. My life has other humans in it again, some of whom have become the best part of my day as our interactions never fail to cheer me up.
Their many kindnesses are like a shot of joy injected straight into my heart. From words to music to pictures to poems to quotes to movie and book recommendations, caring friends have been showering me with much needed random happiness.
It takes selflessness and empathy to hold out your hand to a fellow human in pain; it takes candor and trust to take that hand when it is offered.
This is where instinct and intuition come in, especially in an era where many pretend to be someone they’re not. Be it through lack of courage, out of malice, or simply because of being unable to accept themselves as they are.
The more connected we get through technology, the less able we seem to forge deep, enduring bonds with fellow humans. To the point when some will even declare they do not need meatspace friends.
As a European-born immigrant to the US, I struggle to understand this. My culture is all about people getting together around a table, sharing a meal that lasts for hours, and having a laugh. Or sitting in a café and putting the world to rights for hours on end. This holds true for France and Portugal while in the UK we go down the pub. This is how friends of friends often end up friends, too.
In contrast, I have been grunted at in the elevator in America for greeting a random stranger. Evidently, having the audacity to be courteous and say “Good morning!” didn’t deserve acknowledging with words.
More often than not, kindness begets kindness and not everyone will grunt in response. Sometimes, an impromptu conversation ensues as two or more humans remember how to do human and random smiles brighten up faces.
Life is made up of myriad interactions; existence is a solo pursuit.
Friendship is a gift.
I’ve met my friends in all kinds of places, such as a train platform once because our respective services had been “retimed*” and we started chatting. (British railway euphemism for delayed or canceled.)
The friendships that have endured all have roots in mutual curiosity and shared passions. They are unfailingly intense, committed, and caring to a fault.
A friend is that person who checks in on you when you’re in the midst of a crisis, urges you to establish boundaries and take care of yourself.
A friend is that person who remembers landmark dates and sends you an encouraging note that morning.
A friend is that person who says good morning and good night when they know you’re struggling.
A friend is that person who will stop during their bike commute to work to snap a pretty picture for you.
A friend is that person who gives you a silly nickname that makes you smile every time they use it.
A friend is that person who sends you voice messages because you need cheering up.
A friend is that person always ready for a hug.
A friend is that person who holds all the broken parts of you together like an elastic band and is always willing and ready to pick up the pieces when it snaps.
A friend is that person you would do anything for without any expectation of payback.
Because friendship isn’t any more transactional than love is.
Instead, it is the cumulation of small actions that nurture mutual appreciation, attachment, and often lifelong loyalty.
As such, friendship will carry you even during the toughest times.