02 June 2013

Her best friend E. is doing the final, judged recitals of her degree, the make-or-break thesis for a combined Master's/PhD in classical keyboard performance. In a spasm of self-discipline, which she has been trying to cultivate lately, she writes E. an unsolicited email of well-wishing and encouragement.

It is possibly the first active thing she has ever done in a friendship. Only in the last few years has she begun to think of friendship as important, even vital, and of her friends as people in whose happiness and unhappiness she has a share. She is thus unpracticed at considering the feelings or lives of her friends as anything but material for witty gossip with them.

It feels good, though, to wish someone for whom she cares success, and she finds she likes doing it; but this pleasure is nothing compared to the rush of tenderness and buoyancy she feels when E. responds.

"It means more to me than I can express," E. writes, "to know that somewhere there are prayers tied to a branch for me."

The feeling that accompanies being informed that she has made a positive difference, no matter how small, in the life of someone she adores is revelatory, astonishing. She has helped! She has taken pains, and it has mattered!

If only giving to charity had such obvious rewards, or calling out racist comments. This I shall do more of, she thinks. No wonder people like it. It can be wonderful, this being a friend.

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