Being a friend is a full-time obligation

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Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem Richard Cory has always been a favorite of mine. Although the subject of the poem meets a horrific end, much of the poem talks about the glorious life he led – or seemed to lead.

Richard Cory was “clean favored, imperially slim.” He “glittered when he walked.”

“In fine,” Robinson wrote, “we thought that he was everything to make us wish that we were in his place.”

But there was more to Richard Cory than everyone knew. He battled demons of some kind, but he had a skillful way of keeping that hidden from everyone else. When he met his ultimate demise it was clearly a shock.

Cory was so good at hiding his problems, that “on we worked, and waited for the light, and went without the meat, and cursed the bread.”

So why all this talk about a poem?

All of us, if we think about it, know a Richard Cory. We see people who, from all we can discern, have their act together. They have a good job. They are handsome or pretty. They have a nice home or they volunteer for everything that comes along. Whatever measure we use to define success, it seems there’s a person who has checked all those boxes.

But you can be sure, not everything is perfect. We all have struggles. We all face challenges or problems. Not all of them, of course, lead us to the kind of ending Richard Cory suffered – and that’s a good thing. Still, it’s worth understanding that the perfect life probably doesn’t exist, at least here on earth.

So, to add one more thing to all our to-do lists, it seems like it’s important that we pay close attention to our friends. Listen to the things they say. Be aware of the things they don’t say. Let them know they can talk with you about the things that trouble them. And, prove, through our actions, that we can be discreet when someone confides in us.

Being a good friend is about so much more than companionship during fun times. It’s a responsibility that means being available even in the hard times – especially in the hard times.

Anyone who has struggled through the death of a loved one has probably had the experience of seeing friends drift away, even if only temporarily. It’s not that those friends don’t want to be supportive. It’s more a case of not knowing how. We can’t all be psychologists and we can’t all know the right thing to say in times like that. Sometimes, when a friendship gets deep enough, though, people in despair can feel comfortable reaching out to those friends to ask for help or support. The really good friend will always respond in the affirmative.

Relationships are complex things. The relationships with have with co-workers are different than those we have with family, or with the people we grew up with from childhood. For those relationships that mean the most to us, it’s important that we invest ourselves into them in every way we can.

If we don’t, we could end up with a friend like Richard Cory, who “one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head.”

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