Stand Firm…

It wasn’t until we walked up to the microphones at the karaoke joint, when we realized Thank You For Being A Friend (aka ‘The Golden Girls’ theme) was a full song.

We were set to sing the version we knew…  until we saw another part to the first verse. i am old enough to be aware of the song (as i was alive during the song’s initial release- 1978); having seen the credits of ‘The Golden Girls’ time and time again, i even knew Andrew Gold was credited to be the songwriter.  Still, i (and my friend, and many others around the world) had no idea this song we cherished for ourselves had a further set of lyrics, charting one’s sincerity and gratitude towards another person.  The lyrics are simple yet crucial at a time where popular songs center romantic love (or flat out lust) as a goal to attain.  The song, without describing the gender of said ‘friend’, potentially challenges the socially accepted notion that ‘men and women cannot be friends’.  While ideally, a friendship should develop before building on something romantic (as you need a foundation to stand on before you can build the rest of a structure); again, most popular songs about ‘love’ center only the romantic (or lustful) type.

So…  My friend and i sang away, immediately catching on to the structure of this rendition we had no familiarity with (outside of the abridged version), and cherished our moment.  i would also come to have laughs with friends about some of the gospel renditions i would send.

(On a side note:  ‘The Golden Girls’ historically was one of those shows which resonated with varied groups of people, but the prominent voices who vocalized their approval were older women (who are usually not represented in popular culture as having an independent voice) and the LGBTQ+ communities.  Many people also took note of the comic timing of the show, as well as the (at the time (and still in some cases)) controversial subject matter.  The sexual agency of older women, gay marriage and racism/prejudice were a few of many subjects explored on the show, and few shows to this day explore these subjects in a way which resonate.)

It has been in more recent times where i returned to the song.  A sisterfriend and i were discussing Andrew Gold’s original version the other day, and upon listening to it i began to cry.

And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it’s hard to hear
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend 

Living amongst so much trauma, drama and depression as of late, it’s been even more isolating because for the most part i do not have my closest friends here with me. Though we talk on the phone amongst the geographical and time differences- and i am thankful this is able to happen… Not being able to give and receive hugs (and i love hugs!); not being able to laugh at or analyze/dissect bad movies late at night; not being able to have long conversations about political issues; to go roller skating and help each other get up when we fall, to have code words and sentences only we know, to sing songs with at the karaoke joint, to watch each other grow…  It gets a bit lonely, so i began to cry.

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Increasingly, the concept of ‘friendship’ appears to be shifting.  Prior to social media you had the concept of the ‘pen pal’; Looking forward to receiving a letter in the mail was one of the highlights of the day.  Sometimes you would even go to visit each other.  The word ‘friend’ gets used lightly, or in a cavalier fashion in this day and age, particularly with the use of social media.  People are ‘friends’ based on a limited connection; however, with some exceptions people do not seem to build relationships with each other outside of that.  Popularity is judged based on how many ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ one has.  There are times when a person is introduced as a ‘friend’ in social circles, yet the person doing the introductions cannot remember the ‘friend’s’ name.

My ideas about friendship have always been based on the ‘classic’ definition:  someone you could confide in, someone you could be vulnerable to, someone who will hold you accountable without being judgmental…  When you are young you think you are going to have all of the same friends for the rest of your life.  When this doesn’t happen you may ask a lot of questions of yourself; and just as this happens you gain a new series of friends (with a couple left over from the last part of your journey).  The cycle continues, and the people you once shared a closeness to have encountered new parts of their own journeys.  We all grow older; some of them get married, become parents, begin careers, change interests…  There are times along this journey where you may feel alone.  Every single person you contact is unavailable.  Some of them stop speaking to you for unknown reasons.

Holding on to the more ‘classic’ definition of what a friend is can be incredibly frustrating.  While relationships like this can, and still do exist; i had to re-explore what this actually means, given my current set of experiences and circumstances.  Where i am, nothing is the same as it was…  At all.  The first time i experienced this feeling was when one of my best friends, Barry, left this earth on February 4, 2011.  He left this earth at the same age i will be this year.  He was my rock.  Our late-night conversations always grounded me.  He pushed me to be my best creative self.  He was loved by so many people in his respective communities.  He was a father, an artist, a multi-instrumentalist…  a friend.

To this day, i have difficulty listening to his voice, or even looking at him.  i have audio of us talking, and i cannot listen to it.  Despite posting the video above, i cannot look at him. i avoid thinking about him, because it still hurts.  While i acknowledge one’s physical transition to be another aspect of their journey; while i acknowledge that his relationship to me served a very specific purpose in my life (in a spiritual sense); while i have acknowledged his not physically being here, something still feels very out of place for me, and i have yet to figure out what this is.  i have had some people in my life whom i’ve been close to leave this earth, and he is the only person i have not been able to move past.  Something in my life feels unfinished with him.

Shortly before his transition i had been trying to contact him for some time, and i had not heard back from him.  He was one of the busiest people i knew, but it was strange to not get one of his late-night calls after i’d get out of my job.  When i heard of his transition (from a mutual friend at the time, on social media no less) i felt paralyzed.  i didn’t particularly feel a need to find out any of the details (even though i did find out).  i did briefly communicate with his daughters after the transition; there were also people he was close to who contacted me, letting me know he talked about me a lot.  i didn’t have an interest in searching for information about any viewings or homegoing ceremonies.  He was one of my best friends but i felt disconnected from it all.

Given that i’ve acknowledged his not physically being here, i don’t consider it to be a denial stage.  i still feel that paralyzing feeling when i think about him though.

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Holding on to the ‘classic’ definition can be limiting, not only because it potentially holds on to this illusion of permanence; but the concept of ‘friendship’ also tends to shift in light of how ‘friends’ are viewed in other aspects of our lives.  Though my mother lives close to me (and as we’ve gotten older developed a friendship), our relationship is going to be different, based on the mother/daughter dynamic.  Many who believe in the existence of a higher power (or God) would consider a relationship with God to be a friendship, despite never having physically met, or even knowing what this one they consider a friend looks like. When cats and dogs (and other non-humans) are adopted, they are immediately considered by some to be friends or companions (or even babies), despite being a different species (and having different sets of communication tools) as a human.  The concept of ‘friendship’ makes sense when looking at God or a furry companion as a source of comfort.

In more recent times, how i identify ‘friendship’ has shifted.  Given that my closest friends are not physically here, this shift has become a necessity.  A few days ago i was riding my bicycle, and i saw a man taking pictures of the New Jersey skyline; his graying hair balding in the center of his scalp.  Never having met before, we exchanged hellos as we passed each other, and he said “It’s nice to see you,” with a stark familiarity. i do not know if he imagined that he knew me, or if he felt the same unknown familiarity.  Were we instant friends?  No.  Still, i am learning not to question such things.  It’s like when a baby smiles back at you, or begins to wave hello (or goodbye) 20 seconds after you did so. In these brief moments of unknown familiarity lies a sense of comfort, in a place where you experience trauma and isolation…  In a place where you feel like a stranger.  i really do think the universe sends us situations and random people to remind us of our humility.

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i was in midtown Manhattan on my bicycle, at a stoplight.  Being in a state of limbo (a state i am still experiencing, honestly- financial, emotional and more), a beautiful Rasta or Roots woman walked towards my direction. We exchanged silent glances, as if to say ‘hello.’  She continued to walk, still looking at me, and the only words she said were “Stand firm.”  i nodded my head and placed my hands over my heart, indicating thanks.  i marveled at this comment.  Is this something she’s said to others?  What was her perception of me, for her to recognize where i was at?  The funny thing is, i had not even reached the most stressful part of this journey at that point, so it was clear her intuition was strong.

There have been so many ‘tiny’ experiences to receive joy from, and that moment was simply, one of many i placed in my back pocket of precious moments.  Soon enough, those two words would make more sense than any two words i’ve heard in a long time. This woman was a true friend.  She taught me a major lesson.

Stand Firm.

i am in the most challenging place in my life i’ve ever been (and i have been through many), and while it looks as if i will never see the end of these challenges, i know like anything else, these challenges will pass.  Do i wish i knew when it will all pass?  To be honest, of course!  Not knowing causes major anxiety.  Being in an emotional, spiritual, economic and political battle all at once is enough to place someone in a constant state of anxiety.

Stand firm.

Live clean, let your works be seen,
Stand firm, or go feed worm.

-Peter Tosh

In the end, your actions are going to convey your true character.  At the same time, the words you speak (or sometimes, the music you listen to or images you watch) are going to bring either life or death to a situation.  What you are willing to fight and advocate for is going to convey that life or that death.  Every day, so many of us are beaten down (spiritually, economically, politically), we end up battling each other, and not the very systems which beat us all down.  And there is that one person who, out of the blue, in that moment of desperation…  reminds us to stand firm.

In the absence of your closest friends, other friends exist in the briefest moments.  i am still learning not to question it.

Thank you for being a friend.

Image: Young Friends Looking Happy And Posing For Camera, Creative Commons

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