I met Sally in the fourth grade. Who knows why, but we instantly hit it off. We played at recess, walked with each other down the halls, shared our lunches in the cafeteria, talked over everything, laughed until our sides ached, had sleepovers on the weekends and became the very best of friends.
We wrote notes to each other, carefully passing them through a series of co-conspirators during class. Our special messages were filled with many things; drawings, secrets, jokes, dreams and sometimes hopes about the boys we longed to roller skate with on Friday night. We always closed with our secret code, the letters BFLYS ("BIFF-LESS" when spoken). It appeared on all our correspondence; we said it when we hung up the phone or ran to class after recess. Only we knew what it meant (it is still our secret).
Inseparable throughout grade school, Sally and I remained close through junior high school, when she and her family moved two hours away and we "ran up the phone bill," as my Mom would say. We helped each other through our first dates, first dances and first kisses. There were few weekends when we didn't see each other. We stayed in touch during our college years and saw each other at every holiday. Unless we were on the phone joyfully wishing each other a "Merry Everything," Christmas morning wasn't Christmas. We hung up only after we both had said, "BFLYS."
Sally knew me, understood me, laughed with me, cried with me and lived life with me. And I knew her. We made plans for a lifetime. We promised to dance at each other's weddings, be godmothers to our children and always be there with support and a listening, loving ear.
Suddenly, our lives changed and our promises fell away. I learned a very painful yet simple lesson the day she died. We only have this moment with the people we love. We are never promised tomorrows. Sally would always be a part of my life, but now only in my heart and my memories.
Our friends are gifts. They are there for the good times and the bad, the celebrations and the sorrows, all the big and the small stuff. They are there for the job promotion and the demotion, for the marriage and the divorce, and for the hope and for the heartbreak. Friends are our confidants, partners in crime, buddies, gal pals and trusted counselors.
"A friend is someone who knows everything about you, but likes you anyway," goes the saying. There is no other human relationship like that of a friend. Unlike a sister, you chose a friend—she is not given to you as a result of biology. Friends differ from husbands or boyfriends, partnerships that are layered with complexities (physical and financial). A friendship is a unique, wonderful relationship that you choose to grow, cultivate and nurture.
Friends support, love, care, listen, play and celebrate with us. This verse says it all: "Good friends are like bras: supportive, never leave you hanging, make you look good and are always close to your heart." I think that is as good a definition as any of the word friend I've come across.
In this busy, buzzing world we sometimes forget to stop and acknowledge this most valuable relationship. But it's important, and you'll be glad you did when you take a moment to tell your friend how special she is. Leave a message on her answering machine telling her you think she is the greatest, or send her a card out of the blue saying, "Thank you for all that you are and all that you do." If you've had a disagreement, buy her a new lipstick and attach a note that reads, "Let's make up."
Helen Keller wrote with honesty and truth when she said, "My friends have made the story of my life." Think back to the moments that you cherish. Picture who was there. Nine times out of 10, your friends will have been present helping to write the story of your life too.
Host gal pal night. Invite friends to come together and share an evening dedicated to friendship. Start with a movie or television reruns of famous and iconic friendships like those of Lucy and Ethel, Rhoda and Mary Tyler Moore or the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. One of my favorite films is Enchanted April, a beautiful tale about friendships that flourish in a remote hillside town in Italy. Serve popcorn and drinks. Or, to set the mood, put together a musical CD of songs about friendship; Carol King's "You've Got a Friend," "I'll Stand by You" from the Pretenders or "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler are a great start.
Above all, cherish your friend for as long as you have her.
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 13, 2013