Maureen Pratt

Milestone birthdays can often hold many surprises. This was certainly true of mine, which was mostly spent in the office of a hand surgeon, where I received X-rays, then an MRI and finally an oh-so-stylish splint.

A break in the bone in my dominant hand was the reason for this unexpected medical attention. A painful way to celebrate, but at least everyone with whom I came in contact remembered to cheerily wish me “happy birthday!”

Not long before my mishap, I heard about a survey taken by YouGov, which focused on the role of friends in the lives of the millennial generation (people ages 23 to 38). Despite the prevalence of “social” media, the survey found that 30% of respondents say that they are lonely.

This statistic correlates with other information that I have heard over the past couple of years that seems to imply that even as we have more ways to connect with one another, we are actually drifting further apart.

The challenges posed by my recent medical mishap relate to this survey in a very personal way. Friends bring joy, warmth, encouragement and support in good times and in difficult ones. Without them, life is definitely more cloudy than sunny.

And in a practical way, when problems arise, the lack of friends translates into fewer supports, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

With one hand incapacitated, I quickly realized that I “could not go it alone.”

A very good friend spent a whole afternoon helping with laundry and opening packages that had arrived on the heels of my milestone birthday. Friends from church quickly jumped in with prayers and offers of support and rides to and from Mass. My neighbors offered to take out my recycling and trash while others help with food.

Sometimes we don’t fully appreciate friends until a crisis arises, nor do we realize just how many good people are in this world. I often write and speak about the blessings within difficulties, and in breaking my hand, I have experienced yet another, absolutely wonderful example of this.

For those who responded in the survey that they are without friends, a situation such as mine would pose greater challenges beyond just the logistical issues. To whom will they turn for help?

With whom will they be able to visit, resting in the comfort of people who care? What could they do now to form meaningful relationships?

My musings over the past few days (nothing like a broken hand to give one a lot of time to think!) offer up a few suggestions. The first is to cultivate the human art of conversation, a give-and-take that involves lengthy listening and expression beyond superficial catchphrases. It really is impossible to forge a friendship through tweets and emojis.

Another suggestion is to spend time in prayer and reflection on the individuals who are close to us and especially to articulate the things about those relationships for which we are most grateful. Then, in our conversations, we can share these specific blessings, encouraging one another, as the apostle Paul asked us to do.

Our use of time can be an “elephant in the room,” either helping us come closer to our friends or estranging us from them. So although I am not in favor of scheduling people as I would doctor appointments, consciously making time for others is necessary to avoid the darkness of loneliness.

These next few weeks will be tough, no doubt. But with friends and faith, all is grace!