The United Nations declared July 30 as International Day of Friendship. I honored the day by taking time to reflect on the benefits of friendship and the universal bond of motherhood:
It was my early days in New York City, having moved from Bali, Indonesia. The move to New York was proving to be a hard one. I left behind a lot in that move: a beautiful garden, house help, a nanny, and year round sunshine. The most important thing that I left—something I didn’t realize the magnitude of until I was in my new environment—was a tribe of friends like none I had ever known.
Aside from being the people who could make me laugh until my sides hurt, or hold intellectual conversations that taught and challenged me, my friends in Bali also showed up for my son and me in ways I hadn’t realized I needed. I rarely had to ask, they just showed up in truly magical ways. We were a crew of people from across the globe, brought together for a shared work environment, quickly bonded together as a chosen family.
I was lucky with that move. In retrospect, I had been lucky in so many of my work related moves, always finding a magnificent network of friends pretty quickly in the transition. My New York move, back to my home country, however, was proving to be more challenging.
For a variety of reasons, I was just struggling to find my tribe, and with day to day life being harder than I had experienced in the past, (no more help!) I was often overwhelmed. I have never been good at knowing how (or when) to ask for help, so I just waded through it thinking that this was the new normal for me. I was overlooking one important branch of my tribe: World Mom’s Network.
I am not sure how it all came about now, my memory has morphed it all like it was some superhero cartoon moment where Jennifer Burden, the founder of WMN, and editor Elizabeth Atalay swooped in wearing capes to help me out. I know I wrote to my editor to say: “I need to step back from World Moms, I am just too overwhelmed with life…” And then there was a text from Jennifer saying: “What can I do?!?!” and in my discomfort with asking for help, I weakly said: “I don’t know! Maybe get my son out of the house so I can get some work done?”
Without hesitation, the two women came and took my son, along with Jennifer’s two daughters, out for pizza and a walk in the VERY cold park, giving me a few hours to work. Their gesture contributed a lot more than that to my life. Up until that moment, these were people whom I had only known through our social media group, World Moms Network, yet here they were, dropping their lives to step in and help me out. They showed up. They encouraged me to ask for help. They reminded me of the importance of reaching out. They modeled the values of the World Moms Network: women showing up to support other women.
This one small example of friendship in action speaks to the benefits of having your tribe. The benefits of friendship are so far reaching that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 30 July as International Day of Friendship, with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
While the resolution places focus on involving young people, as future leaders, in events that include different cultures and promote international understanding and respect for diversity, the day has become a time for all people to celebrate the friendships in their lives.
The benefits of finding your tribe:
The old adage says that friends are our “chosen family,” or “found family.” They are the people who have intentionally chosen to embrace us for all that we are, sharing our interests and values, and often encouraging us to be our best selves. Our friendship groups can become our tribe, seeing us through the many stages of life. While we can all speak to the value of friends for fun, research also tells us that having friends is an important part of our overall well being.
Friends are good for our mental and physical well-being, even contributing to longevity of life. Having a close circle of friends can decrease certain health risks like diabetes, depression, heart attack, and stroke. A study published by PNAS, found that people with a friendship network live up to 50% longer than those who do not. (1) A small Harvard study also found that friends can help to reduce the hormone cortisol in times of stress. (2) These studies, and many more, show that friendships are an important element in our physical and mental health. While many people may be tempted to withdraw during hard times, research shows that we are likely to weather it better when we have friends by our side.
One reason for the potential longevity factor is that friends can help encourage us as we go through lifestyle changes. For example, friends can help us set and achieve healthy goals, serving as accountability partners. Friends can also alert us when we are getting off track, or when certain behaviors get out of hand (like overworking, or drinking too much). (3) People are more motivated to take on changes and maintain healthy behaviors when they are surrounded by people with similar goals, and have a group encouraging them along the way. Do you want to get fit, or stay on track with healthy eating? Consider forming a friendship walking group, or if that’s not possible, create a texting group with friends who share the same goal; a daily check in can be the thing that helps you stay on track!
Friends can also help us to step outside of our comfort zone, taking on new activities and learning about things we may not have considered without their influence. I often credit my friends with being my resource for courage- I know I never would have gone ziplining or rafting down a rapid river if it weren’t for friends introducing me to new activities. I have a group of friends now with a promise of “Yes,” meaning when one says: “Let’s try…” the others say YES.
Friends can serve as valuable mirrors, helping us to see our strengths and reminding us of who we are. They can encourage us when we are down, and offer reassurance when we doubt our abilities. If we are stepping away from our best selves or outside of our values, our friends can serve as a compass that can bring us back home. When I have struggled with something, having a friend say: “The Erin I know would…” has served as a wonderful reminder of my own strengths, and helps boost my spirits to see myself through the positive lens of a friend.
Finding your tribe:
With all of the benefits of friends being listed, it may be obvious that we should choose our friends wisely, as the old adage says: we are the company we keep! Our friendship circles can significantly influence our own lifestyle choices and personal motivation. Selecting our chosen family for their positive influence (and the contributions we can make to their lives) has the potential to make a big difference in the trajectory of our lives.
As we get older, the demands of life can make it hard to find and nurture our friendships. Despite the effort it takes, the benefits are well worth the effort.
A few things you can do to make new friends include:
- Join a fitness center with accountability groups, or join a 30 day fitness challenge to connect with others who are interested in a healthy lifestyle.
- Check out events with social groups like meet up or Internations to find people who share your interests or to find people with a similar zest for new adventures!
- Join affinity groups within your community, either through a local place of worship or community service group. Finding people committed to their beliefs and service can help you connect to people with shared values.
- Connect with World Moms Network contributors and tribe members! Moms from around the world are here to support you and may become your new BFF.
A few things you can do to honor your friendships include:
- Send a handwritten card or flowers for a special occasion or just because! Let your friends know they are on your mind and that you value them.
- Check in with your friends for no reason. A quick call or even just a voice memo to say “I am thinking of you,” can make a world of difference for someone.
- Make a commitment for a once a month friend date, whether that be face to face or online, time together can help strengthen the ties that bind you.
- Avoid being a friendship vampire! Whilst we can benefit a great deal from the friendships in our lives, it is important to consider our own contribution and keep things in balance. Ensure that the give and take in your friendship circle is reciprocal in nature.
When I was in Girl Scouts, we used to sing a song: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” As I have gone through my life, the truth in that simple little refrain becomes more and more apparent. Friendship, for all of its benefits, is truly worth celebrating. Happy International Day of Friendship!
- Yang YC, Boen C, Gerken K, Li T, Schorpp K, Harris KM. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(3):578-583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112
- Harvard Medical School. The health benefits of strong relationships. Updated August 6, 2019.
- Craddock E, vanDellen MR, Novak SA, Ranby KW. Influence in relationships: A meta-analysis on health-related social control. Basic Appl Soc Psych. 2015;37(2):118-130. doi:10.1080/01973533.2015.1011271
This is an original post for World Moms Network by our contributor in Switzerland, Erin Threlfall. The photograph of the author with WMN founder, Jennifer Burden (l) and WMN Senior Editor, Elizabeth Atalay (r), is credited to the author.
A Promising Terrace Above The Town
That is what the receptionist said when I asked her the meaning of “aussichtsterrasse baumli”.
“So, how do we go there?” I asked again.
She looked at me blankly at first, and I worried if I had asked a culturally inappropriate question.
“You have been here in Winterthur, for three days and you have not gone there yet?” she asked me incredulously.
I frantically looked out for where my husband was. He was busy fuzbolling with the children, at the hotel lobby, much to my annoyance. I thought he had already spoken to this particular receptionist and asked for directions and I had to just pick up some papers from her.
When I returned my attention to her, she was back to being busy at her computer, and I wondered if I should ask her again or just go back to watching fuzboll.
“So, this is a print out of the local map from here to the bus station,” she handed out a sheet.
“Thank you,” I said.
“And this is a map from the bus station to the forest,” she continued with another sheet. “And let me get you a local map of our city,” saying so she got up and went into another adjoining room.
“Now if you take the bus from Loki station to …” she was amazing.
Switzerland is just not the friendliest nation in the world. It is also the most hospitable. The people there are truly helpful.
A walk through the town of Winterthur
We began our journey to the promising terrace on top of the town. As we stepped out of the hotel, a light drizzle started and perhaps we hesitated to continue, because we were the only ones who had embarked on this journey, all alone, without our friends. And we wondered at the futility of it, in the rain, at a shivering temperature.
“Why don’t you use my umbrella,” said a voice. We turned to find our friendliest receptionist in the world.
“You think it is okay to go in the rain?” I asked.
“Today is your last day, and you should not miss Baumli,” she answered.
There was no looking back now.
With maps in hand, taking blind turns at intersections, reading German street signs, comparing it with the map, not understanding, giving up, almost turning back again, our adventurous spirit returning, trotting on, asking directions from students who had perennial ear plugs in their ears, we continued our journey.
Culture soaking the lonely, rainy streets…
It was not bad. It was an adventure. My only fear was, we could get lost, not knowing how to find our way back, and missing our return flight home. It was our last day in Switzerland.
My son kept insisting, “Ma, we are not kids, we won’t get lost. See we have maps.”
We reached what they called the bus station after a walk of half an hour and following the map. You see we had refused to take the connecting bus from the hotel to the bus station which would take us to the beautiful terrace on top of the town.
Culture soaking the streets some…
My husband and son wanted to ‘soak’ in the culture and feeling of the town, they claimed. I still wonder how they claimed to do it without the feeling of feeling lost with a map in hand.
Culture soaking the streets some more…
We were faced with the most challenging task to get tickets. The automatic ticket kiosk at the bus station displayed everything in German. And we jumped to our maps to check all the words which our kind receptionist had circled in red.
None of the words or destination names looked familiar. I knew we were lost. I had this intense irritation which I masked. My husband kept insisting that he was taking me to a surprise destination, but with Google in our mobile phones, no destination is ever really a surprise.
Finally, after a short epic incident at the ticket kiosk, we got our tickets and got on a bus and waited with bated breath for the supposed destination to arrive. When we got down, I almost expected to see a beautiful terrace or viewpoint. But no! We got down finding ourselves at the entrance of a narrow trail leading into a very dense forest.
Entering the forest…
“We have to walk into this forest,” said my husband.
The entry to the forest …
“Of course,” I really put efforts into masking my irritation.
“Google says if we are lucky, we can sight many wild animals,” my son shrieked excitedly.
I knew I had to make peace with the world now, or I could never. I am never a surprise loving person. I am a Taurean, who likes to be grounded, who likes to know what to expect, and who likes everything in order. But here we were embarking on a journey into a forest to a promised beautiful view above the town, after a long and assiduous journey by walk and bus. For all that anyone knew, we were already lost. And there was that promise of wild animals too, which I tried hard to forget.
I followed the two excited kids – one an adult, one still a kid; they had both already entered the narrow trail and walked further on assuming I was following too. So, I decided to oblige them as well. And it is good to get lost together, isn’t it?
A walk into the forest continues …
The air was fresh. There was a light mist. The drizzling had stopped some time back. I have always been a trekker, and so I enjoyed walking generally. It was not so bad, I decided.
“Look ma, nature is smiling at us. You have to too.”
A Change of my heart!
About ten minutes into our walk, my heart was doing wonders. There is something about a walk that creates magic in the air, that makes you inhale miracle dust, that makes you wonder at the beauty of the world, and this was one such walk, into the dense forest, sighting wild animals. My son claimed an animal to be a fox, my husband thought it to be a wolf or vice versa. It was chasing behind another small animal.
Nature beckoning us on …
We continued our walk. The path curved beautifully. It started to drizzle again slightly. We shivered in the rain, but for nothing in the world, I would have stayed back at the hotel.
As the forest cleared slightly, we came across beautiful vineyards, the tiny vines yet to creep up the fence. The tender leaves yet to open up fully were shyly grinning against the rain drops glistening on their tips.
Beautiful vineyards in the making…
We continued to walk up. I believe we would have been walking for about half an hour now. I make it a point to never wear a watch unless my husband reminds me to. I do not like to know the time, at any time.
You could walk forever if you have the time, energy and a heart which loves to meander about natural beauty. There were benches lined up in short intervals in the path, in the middle of the vineyards. The journey was romancing us, the path was dancing up to us, singing to us, luring us into its fold.
The journey romancing us …
There was an occasional jogger who waved at my son. I wondered who would want to jog in a drizzle, but here she was, with a pink hood. There was another middle-aged man who was strolling just like us, and who was content to just walk, pause, look ahead at the vast beauty from the elevation, and continue to walk, pause, and so on.
A wayfarer who posed for us …
We continued our walk. These were the only two people we ever met during our whole walk because it was just not the day to take a walk uphill. I totally agree, never at 7 degrees Celsius in the shivering drizzle.
A thermometer on the path
It was pretty lonely. The past few days had been a constant whirl or seeing all over Europe, drinking in the beautiful architecture, gazing lovingly at Renaissance art, eating exotic foods, being bombarded with brand new culture every hour of the day, playing fuzzball, running behind kids, interacting with our friends, singing antakshari and so on. This walk felt like a fitting end to the hectic trip we were just concluding.
Nature assaulting us with her bounty
This walk to Baumli, was the best part of our trip, for, in this walk, we received more from nature than we ever hoped to seek. Traveling in Europe fulfilled our expectations of the art, culture, excitement and all the assaults on our senses, which we had hoped for. But this walk was an assault on our soul, it was joyful, it was bliss.
Reaching the promised terrace:
The walk led us to the terrace – the promised heaven of the exercise. And what a view it was. We were all spellbound. We could not drink in the sight more than we did, but we ached so much to drink more if at all that makes sense.
The promised terrace above the town
There was not a single soul around. It was still drizzling, and we still had only one umbrella, with which our son was generally dancing, leaving the two of us to shiver so badly.
Dancing with the umbrella
It was also the worst day to go on a trek, and into a forest, to the top of the mountain, just to look at a view.
But you did not need an umbrella or a special shoe for this trek, you only needed a special type of soul, and we all had that, I guess.
A destination worthy of a journey
And in that shiver, our beautiful souls were looking at something, never before looked at. We were experiencing those feelings in our heart since the past hour, which had never before been experienced. A walk in nature is definitely good. But a walk to reach Baumli, all alone in solitude, in a brief drizzle of love from mother Nature, was beyond the best. I think I could explode by just looking at the view, or going through the journey again.
Culmination of an epic
I promise, anyone who undertakes such a walk, could hear angels whispering in her ears, angels whispering verses of poetry, angels beckoning your fingers into a painting, I felt all my creativity surging in, and I tried hard to stifle it, for I did not want my creativity to steal away my precious moment of communion.
This long trek to Baumli, was really a walk inwards to my own heart, to the deepest recess of my heart, ever traveled by me, and with open eyes too. There is a beautiful phrase used in the Heartfulness system of meditation – Constant Remembrance. What it means in very simple terms is, to be in touch with divinity at all times. And on this day, I felt this term take on more meanings than what was ever felt possible to me at any earlier time.
I have said this before, and I will say it again, the beauty always lies in the journey, it lies in the walking or trekking or riding. The destinations are almost always déjà vu or an anti-climax or at times even betrayals of the long arduous effort of reaching there. This time, this one time alone, in this walk to reach the top of Baumli, I could say that the statement could be rendered false.
Both the destination and the journey were as beautiful as the other. None were competing with each other. They both stood alone, in their own individual splendor, and reverence.
Some walks cannot be explained; alas we only can fall back on words like this article, for communication. Some walks can only be experienced, and even then, there would still be something lurking in your consciousness which could be trying to say something to you, which you could continue to try to understand, even one month after the walk. This was one such walk.
Well, after about 15 minutes, we decided that we had to interact and looked at each other, and smiled.
My husband’s eyes twinkled as if to say, “I wanted to surprise you, didn’t I say that?”
Love is ‘Meaningless Meanderings Leading to Perfection’!
Love and romance certainly is a candle light dinner or red roses on birthdays (no, he has not got me either, lol). It is also a declaration of love like the poems written by Romeo for Juliet. However at times, true love could mean a frustrating journey with upside down German maps and unintelligible road signs, at times true love could mean a walk along with foxes (or maybe wolves), and at times true love could also mean shivering in the rain with hair plastered all over my face at 7 degrees Celsius.
True love could be a meaningless meandering which can lead to perfection, says Lao Tzu.
Above all true love is that, where each one takes the other to the Ultimate communion.
Has any vacation taken you by surprise to redefine your opinion of beauty or love?
Photo credit: The author