Living through 16 years of symptoms and almost 13 years of being diagnosed with Crohn's I have come to treasure the true friends I have that have journeyed with me along the way. There are few true friends in my life, and that is how it should be. I am not saddened by the fact that many do not know how to journey with me, or find my life too messy and full of upheaval and too much drama for their liking. I am so happy that I have my friends who do seem to have learnt to journey by my side even as I have learnt to journey, and for those who have stood by me and helped me keep hope alive in my heart. These are the angels of God, sent in the likeness of man, who come to me in my darkest hour, and shine the light of their love into my life. Those who somehow know when to say or do the right thing, when not to speak or do, and simply be, and when to leave me alone... even if not completely knowing, they are the ones who are willing to be wrong and swallow their own hurt and pride should they be mistaken in their dealings with me... they must be angels, or at the very least angelic souls in mortal vessels.
These are the people who are happy being themselves and so can be so much more for others. The kind of person who is secure in the knowledge of who they are, and what they can be, should they step out beyond themselves and be something more to someone else. These are the ones who share your joys, and also share in your sorrows. They are happy for the small things you accomplish in your life...like managing a liquid only diet for as long as necessary without falling off the wagon, for example. They are happy for the bigger things you accomplish in your life, like working on your long term goals, or learning to paint, or play the cello. They are happy for the huge, most meaningful accomplishment of all... raising 4 children despite chronic illness, though time will tell how good a job that's been. They are happy your family is happy, and doing well, they are genuinely glad for you and even if they are lacking in their own lives, even if there is something missing in their hearts, they begrudge you not your joys. This is a true friend. This is the person you hold close to your heart and say, "Thank you, thank you for your generosity of heart in loving me".
This is the friend who, because I know he or she can hold my joys within their heart without heartbreak... this is the same person with whom I share my deepest sorrows. This is the same person who is deserving of that privilege, and yes, it is indeed a privilege, to enter into the sufferings of another. It is no light thing to have someone open up their hearts to you or pour out their tears before you as they share their difficulties, in fact, it can even be a burden to some. The true friend, the one who sticks by you no matter what, may view it as burdensome, but carries the weight of it anyway, so as to lighten your own load.
Not all people will share in your joys, and certainly not all will share in your sorrows. Sadly, there are some people who cannot share in your joys but will happily rejoice in your sorrows, for their hearts find it easier to do so. Do not share with them the hardships or pains you face, for they will feed on your sorrows only to enrich their dislike or hatred of you. These are not friends at all. They are not quite enemies, either, they exist in a state of limbo. Perhaps some day they will find it in their hearts to be a true friend... until then they are best left alone. The knowledge that not everyone means us well in life is painful, even heartbreaking, but it is very much a part of growing up, and it's never too late to grow up, even at 45. This truth has led me to cherish even more the true friends I have who rejoice with me in my times of gladness, and commiserate with me when I am down. Perhaps chronic illness has been useful in that it has helped me sieve out my true friends. Certainly, because of the never ending constancy of chronic illness in my life it has become imperative to me to seek out my true friends, as their genuine love and care is precisely what is needed rather that the stress, despair, and heartbreak that those who cannot share in my happiness but rejoice in my sorrows bring with them.
Someday, when my true friend needs a listening ear, and someone to help lessen the load, I too will listen, cry alongside them, say a prayer for them, do something kind for them, whatever it takes to come to that place where the message is sent to say, "I love you, my friend. I have shared in your joys, I share also in your sorrows. You are not alone". I hope that I too can be a friend who shares in both the joys and sorrows that all of us encounter in life. There is no escape. Not one of us is to be spared. Our joys are easy for us to endure, in fact they are welcome no matter what they may be. It is the sorrows that take us by surprise, that assail us when we least expect them, that offend us by their very temerity and intrusion into our lives, that force us time and time again to reassess the priorities in our lives, to rediscover who we really are, to decide who we want to be... life with chronic illness is a deep, deep sorrow that never ends.
It eats away at the soul, it saddens the heart, it embitters the spirit, it kills you slowly on the inside... if you let it. One must not let it. One must fight it everyday. One must surround one's self with people who will help in this battle. Find the true friends in your life. They aren't so hard to find, really. They are the ones who genuinely share in your joys. They have the largeness of spirit to bear your anguish and grief and sorrows when that time comes. Cherish them always. Seek them out often, Love them deeply. And yes, share in their joys, and in their sorrows also. Relish the sweetness of friendship that is true. It is the very love of God made real in our lives.
Thanks for reading,