“Five Friends”

I can still hear the words today as plainly as when she said them 30 years ago. “Take out a piece of paper and number it one through ten.”

It was always followed by a collective groan from everyone in the class and then the shuffling of papers as we waited for the first question. For three years of my life at Monroe Middle School this how Betty Jean Liles began her infamous pop quizzes.

If she was in a good mood and we’d been well behaved they could be easy, merely an opportunity to boost your overall grade. But if we’d been acting up, and particularly if there had been any monkey business for a substitute teacher the day before, there could be hell to pay.

She was a great teacher though and, without question, the one I remember the most from back then. Some advice she gave me sticks out more than the most, too.

“You’ll be lucky if, when you’re my age, you can say that you have five friends.

Most of us are fortunate to be surrounded by friends. But we are surrounded by them in much the same way as I was surrounded by friends in Ms. Liles’ class - by circumstance. The other kids were my "friends" simply because we’d been assigned to the same class.

Our adult lives are much the same. We’re friends with each other because we happen to work at the same company, go to the same church, or live in the same small town. Our circumstances bring us together, we like each other well enough, and so we are “friends.”

20 years through all the ups and downs this dude has always had my back.

20 years through all the ups and downs this dude has always had my back.

At least that's what we call it. But really they are merely acquaintances, and the relationship we have with them is totally different that the one we have with our “real friends.”

Our real friends are those with whom we have a deep and intimate bond. We are connected in ways that circumstance cannot drag apart. These are the people who are still by your side if you loose your job, move to another town, quit drinking, or get divorced while your circumstantial friends are nowhere to be found.

This was on my mind this morning because a close friend of mine, who has gone through a major life change, was recently talking to me about how he lost all of his friends. He feels lonely and isolated and often wonders what he did that caused his friends to turn their backs.

The answer is nothing.

His circumstances just changed.

I can relate. The same thing happened to me when the circumstances of my life changed and I got divorced. Lots of people who I counted among my friends simply stopped talking to me. I never heard from them again and, to this day, some of them act as though they don’t see me in the grocery store line.

At first it bothered me, but then I remembered what Betty Jean Liles told me. These people weren’t my friends, they were merely acquaintances.

Our circumstances will inevitably change. Over the years many, many "friends" will come into our lives and just as many will go.

It’s OK.

Be thankful for your real friends.

You can always make new acquaintances.