This life offers so many opportunities for learning if we keep our eyes open and pay a bit of attention. I’ve learned much from books and classes and newspapers and TV but I think the most important things I’ve learned, I’ve learned from friends—dear friends who don’t even know they are teaching me.
For instance, I used to pump gas into the car by holding onto the handle of the pump until I heard the click which meant it was full. For some reason I was afraid to push down the lever that lets you walk away while the gas is still pumping. Maybe I thought that it wouldn’t stop on its own and gas would gush out all over the cement and someone would come by with a match and blow us all to smithereens. But then I happened to pull up to a gas station where my friend Lynn was filling her car. She deftly pushed in the lever and stood there talking to me hands free!
“Hey, Lynn uses the lever,” I said to myself, “I guess I can, too.” And from that moment to this, I have used the lever and let the gas dispense without my hands right there to stop it. Now I can write the Visa transaction into my checkbook during those long minutes. Only, of course, if I have put my purse in a strategic place so I don’t have to climb into the car and slide across the seat which could also potentially cause a spark and blow us all to smithereens!
Another fear I have is that of turning left. Most of my fears it seems do involve cars. Just to get out of our neighborhood, I have often turned right even though my destination was to the left because the traffic was so heavy and intimidating. But when I was leaving my house with my friend Stacey who was driving us somewhere in her car, I quickly noted that she turned left onto busy Baseline—even though the road wasn’t clear for two miles in either direction. She turned left into the left turn lane. Hmmmm. I had been taught in one of my traffic school experiences that you aren’t supposed to do that. That is the left hand turn lane for the cars already on the main road. But Stacey used it to pull into traffic from our side street. Stacey isn’t the most courageous of all people so I figured that if she was brave enough to pull out into the left turn lane, then I could be, too. That maneuver has saved me many needless right hand turns and a lot of stagnant minutes waiting for traffic to die down. Thanks, Stacey!
One dear friend has taught me about the futility of anger. Long ago Jeanne decided that she didn’t like how being angry made her feel so she chose to never be mad. She’s had as much cause for great irritation as any of the rest of us, but by some brute force of will she has chosen to delete anger from her life. I haven’t incorporated that knowledge into my behavior yet, but it is something I would like to work on some day—some calm, peaceful day when no one is aggravating me.
On one un-peaceful day when I was full of aggravation toward a friend over a business deal, she taught me that our feelings about the situation didn’t have to affect our friendship. She did it with kindness and maturity. And another friend, Leslie, taught me that it was OK to give myself a birthday party. So I did and it was really fun thanks to all the dear friends who allowed me to be so self-indulging. Aging has been rather easier since then.
Along with everyday sorts of things like where to find the best bargains, how to take better pictures or what to fix for dinner day after day, I have learned from friends as they have accepted widowhood with cheerful participation or borne physical limitations with poise and determination.
I have also learned from friends the power of faith. When Fay had the heart breaking experience of delivering a full term but still-born child, I could imitate her spiritual strength when two years later our beautiful baby son only lived one day. In addition to coping skills for heartache, I have learned from friends that a forgiving heart can save families and that a listening ear is better than a psychoanalyst.
Friends have taught me about joy, encouragement, solace and understanding. They have also taught me about humility, as when one friend confided to another, “Elizabeth has a lot to learn.” Actually, she was only a semi-friend and after I’d heard that she said that, I was even ready to cross her off my semi-friend list. I was offended as we often are when someone says something true but offensive. (Of course, that was before I learned from another friend—and finally internalized—that choosing to take offense is ridiculous.)
Maybe I’ve learned the most from that friend who didn’t mind saying what she thought. I did have a lot to learn and I have lots to learn even now. It’s a good thing I still have wonderful friends to help teach me.