The only way to have a friend is to be one*
In the seventh of her series of talks based on Steve Goodier’s Lessons from the Turtle1, Rev. Joanne continues the story of the spiritual unfoldment of Turtle by telling us The Gift of Friends.
In our story, Turtle has endured a great deal of discomfort trying, literally, to get back on his feet. Owl, not being able to physically turn Turtle upright from his back, is doing what he can to offer him perspective and lessons along the way. From the Gift of the Accident he has learned the ability to choose; from the Gift of the Clouds, affirmations of Truth; from the Gift of the Tree, honoring our true purpose; from the Gift of the Butterfly, being here now; and from the Gift of the Mountain, setting goals and intentions.
Rev. Joanne begins by sharing an anonymous quote that Goodier uses in this lesson:
A friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become and still gently invites you to grow.
So in our tale, what do turtle-friends look like? From Goodier’s text2:
Two turtle-friends encounter our hero. “Am I glad to see you!” said Turtle, “It’s really good to have friends.”
The smaller of his two friends asked, “Do you know how silly you look?”
“I know, and I’m sunburned and tired of lying on my back. Worst of all, I can’t seem to get myself righted. Perhaps you can help?”
“Perhaps you can just keep reminding me how silly I look, it will help me to pass the time as I lie here and die.” (Understandable annoyance and sarcasm from Turtle – my comment).
“Perhaps you can help,” suggested Owl. “Maybe if you both pushed together you can help him to regain his feet.”
“I don’t see why not,” said the larger turtle-friend, “let’s just put our noses down under his shell and push him this way.”
They pushed and pushed, but after several unsuccessful attempts they looked as though they were going to give up.
“We can’t do this alone,” said one of the turtle-friends, “you’re going to have to help us. After all, it’s your life we’re saving here.”
“What shall I do?” asked Turtle.
“When we push, you dig your feet into the ground and try to pull yourself over. We’ll push, you pull. Do you think you can do that?” said the turtle friend.
“Let’s do it,” said Turtle.
They strained once again, and this time, amazingly, Turtle rolled over onto his feet.
“Wow,” said Turtle. “I never thought I’d see brown earth again. It’s great to be right side up.”
“How do you feel?” asked Owl.
“How do I feel?” exclaimed Turtle. “I feel excited and relieved, and really . . . alive again. More alive than I have ever felt before. I feel invigorated. I’m ready to start a whole new life.”
“There’s a lesson here too,” counseled Owl (of course he did, that’s what Owls do – my comment). “Your friends are a gift to you. And from the Gift of Friends comes the lesson of energy.”
“Energy?” asked Turtle.
“Yes, you feel alive, you feel invigorated and more energetic than ever. Your friends have helped you turn right side up,” said Owl. “They have given you no less that the gift of life! Without friends, we become discouraged and sometimes overwhelmed, but friends help to keep us rightful and hopeful. When our lives are right side up, we maintain energy for living, and what’s more, when we find ourselves upside down, our friends are good support until we can get on our feet again. They help to keep us positive. They help to turn us around, if necessary, and some friends choose to go through emotional difficulties with us. I hope that in some small way I have been such a friend to you.”
“Oh, you have,” said Turtle. “Thank you. I do need friends, now more than ever.”
“But as you have just learned,” continued Owl, “our friends can’t do it all for us. They can help but they can’t do it alone. The greatest energy comes from our working together with our friends. Together, almost anything is possible. The Gift of Friends is the lesson of energy. Friends pick us up when we stumble, and show us a better direction, if necessary, and encourage us on our way.”
Rev. Joanne reminds us that as Turtles (or humans) we are built to be in community, to be in relationship with one another. We have a natural desire to “belong” somewhere. She also reminds us that many studies show that belonging to a community supports better physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and that other studies show that loneliness can decrease the immune system and increase the chance for depression.
Most of us have experienced a situation where we were physically among a group of people but still felt isolated. At such times, we are not feeling a “connection” for any number of reasons. Physical proximity is not a guarantee of a feeling of belonging.
We can also be in situations, such as now, where physical presence is more challenging, but personal connections can still be made. Technology allows for many more creative ways for us to stay in touch with family and friends.
While both of the above statements are true, it should be said that while connecting with others by telephone or video chats are truly a blessing, they are no substitute for the personal interactions that are only possible when physically together. While being grateful for the blessings of technology and taking full advantage of the opportunities they allow, we should not become too accustomed to a “new normal.” This is very new, and in no way normal. We should be aware that good habits are much easier to break than they are to establish – or re-establish.
Rev. Joanne says that in addition to connecting in community, people can also demonstrate friendship by not allowing individualism to sometimes get in the way of caring for others. This is a delicate balance to find. Around the world there are cultural differences that manifest in a belief in the sovereignty of the individual first, and others in the good of the community first. In cultures that emphasize the individual first, few would suggest that every person has a right to do whatever they please. And in cultures that emphasize the community first, few would suggest that individual persons have no rights except as they relate to the group - although we have seen the negative results that can occur when group consciousness is taken too far.
During this most unusual time in our global community, people everywhere are being asked to consider these questions not on a theoretical level, but on a daily basis in each of our lives. As in our tale of Turtle and his friends, we see that different situations call for different responses. Owl wanted to help turn Turtle onto his feet, but was unable to help. Turtle was unable to do so on his own. With help from his friends, but not done entirely by his friends, Turtle regained his feet.
In some situations in life, we are like Owl, wanting to help, but unable to do so. In other situations we are Turtle’s two friends - we can offer tangible aid. In the complex world of living, it is not always clear if the aid we are giving is making any difference. Wanting to help, wanting to do something, anything, can sometimes feel better than doing nothing.
One thing that I have found is a foundation stone of friendship is a person’s ability to allay fears. Fear is a natural, normal emotion that has evolved to help keep us safe. But once we are confident that danger has been passed, or at least greatly reduced, we must move forward in life. Friends can help us discern the difference between reasonable caution and unreasonable fear. But once they have done all they can to help us with that, it is up to us to use what we learned from the Gift of the Accident, and exercise our ability to choose. Isn’t that what friends are for?
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
This week, reach out to someone, that one person you have not yet connected with, who you know is a good support system. Share with them, “this is what has worked for me,” but also to share the things that have not worked, but this is what I plan to do differently. Also, share “this is what you can do for me.” This might be praying for you or perhaps simply being a attentive and compassionate listener, not trying to fix everything. These are things that are among the gift of friends.
1Goodier, Steve, Lessons of the Turtle, Living Right Side Up, Life Support System Pub Inc, 2002.
2Paraphrased, but closely follows text.
*Ralph Waldo Emerson