‘There is so little real friendship in the world’

Published 3:53 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ann Austin, Live United

I was talking to a friend today about the seemingly endless cycles in life—how at a certain point one wonders what has been learned, or gained, from all of the experiences. It seems there are inevitably points where we all wonder what the meaning is.

Ann Austin

When I was younger — and wiser — before all of life’s distractions when I could take a step back and truly observe life and the people who shared it with me, I realized the greatest gift was true friendship. True friends are the people who stand by our side to support us and give us clarity about our purpose.

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A statement that has always bothered and intrigued me comes from one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen: “There is so little real friendship in the world!” (“Persuasion”)

At times, this statement seems true — when we are in a strange place, far away from home or what is familiar to us. And we probably have all experienced the even greater loneliness that comes from being surrounded by people who do not understand us.

I was recently re-acquainted with a friend I made two years ago. He moved up to the Twin Cities to help his people get better adjusted to their new way of life.

My friend is a Karen man. The Karen people come from Burma (also called Myanmar) and they are refugees. They have come to our area with very little and are working hard to make a life for their families.

They are kind people and value authentic connections. Like any of us in a new place, it is hard for them to find people they can trust. The Karen people have come from very difficult circumstances — loss of family members, homes burned to the ground and much political upheaval. This has not been an easy road for them, and they continue to face challenges. It is important for them to find people they can trust, who will be kind and welcoming and perhaps friends.

What I have found is, once you are truly friends with another person, you see them with your heart first. This does not mean you ignore the challenges or condone all the decisions your friend makes — but you see them beyond all the facades to who they really are. Because there is more.

We are ultimately products of this world — and the behaviors or beliefs we have learned may keep us from authentically connecting with others and forming true friendships.

I admit there are times I’ve been closed off — we all have been hurt, intentionally or not. But the greatest sadness is to live a life where we never feel we are able to be completely open with another.

And I am not limiting the scope of friendships — there are many people I know who have found greater connection and comfort with the animals in their lives. The point is: We must be able to open ourselves up.

With friends, there is hope where we may have felt hopeless. We have partners in life who work alongside us, and the whole world appears in a different light. We are not alone. And we never have been.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of world we would live in if we were able to consider each other as friends first — to recognize the humanity in another person and honor that part of them before we place judgment.

I am thankful to be surrounded with many true friends in this place — and I wish the same for all of you.


Albert Lea resident Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.