I never used to give much thought to my friends beyond that they fell in different categories, such as the stage in my life when our lives intersected, degree of friendship, “couples friends”, work friends, etc. I pretty much took it for granted that I had friends, but I didn’t fully understand the meaning of friendship until my daughter was hospitalized with anorexia over four years ago.

At first we didn’t want to tell too many people. It’s a hard thing to share. There was definitely an element of stigma; but more importantly, we wanted to respect our daughter’s privacy since few people knew then that she was anorexic. I sent an email to our closest friends to let them know about the hospitalization because it would be awkward and perhaps hurtful if they heard the news from someone else. Most of our community found out about it eventually, but it’s not the type of thing that you broadcast.

I remember that the day after my daughter was hospitalized, I was standing in the grocery store pushing my cart and it hit me all of a sudden that my fifteen year old daughter was in the hospital and that she was really sick. I was about to have a total meltdown right there in the bread aisle when my phone rang. It was one of my close friends calling to tell me that she had Shabbat meals covered for me that week and that she was starting a dinner rotation on the nights that I needed to be at the hospital. At that moment, she saved my sanity. I am forever indebted to her for that and for so many other kind things that she has done for me over the years.

When my then seven year old son needed a place to go after school on the days when we were at the hospital, my friends stepped up to care for him. On the nights when my family needed dinner, friends showed up at 6 p.m. with hot food in hand. A friend who lives about an hour away sent us food for Rosh Hashana when I had no time or heart to cook for the holiday. Friends made the night time trek to the hospital with me when my husband was away because I didn’t want to drive the dark windy roads by myself. Friends showed up randomly at my door on Friday afternoon with goodies in hand. A distant friend unexpectedly brought me flowers on my birthday. One of my best friends called me and read me a list of inventive ways that she thought of to help me; she made me choose at least one item from her list per week. Other parents drove extra carpools so my schedule could be freed up to visit my daughter. One friend brought me soup every Tuesday for months. My daughter’s teacher called me to check on her every week for well over a year even though I had nothing positive to report. The warmth in his voice and his caring demeanor helped me though each rough week.

Behind each act of practical help was genuine friendship, and that friendship sustained me though a dark time. Nothing could alter the reality of the situation; but the benevolence and indescribably generous support bestowed upon us by our friends somehow counterbalanced the awful experience that we were going through. Gestures and kind acts that seemed so inconsequential to my friends who offered them meant the world to me.

I learned a lot about friendship from those people who reached out to me. I learned that it’s worth it to make the extra effort even (especially) when it’s inconvenient to do so because a small gesture can touch the heart in ways that you cannot imagine. I learned that there are people out there who have more emotional intelligence and sensitivity than others, and that some of my friends care for me more and some care for me less, and that’s okay. It helps me know which friendships are most worth investing in. I learned the value of a kind word and that empathy and compassion, while useless in a practical sense, are strong salves for a pained soul. I learned to put others first when they need it, because others put me first when I needed it. I learned that people in a crisis situation rarely know what they need because they are so overwhelmed by everything at once that they can’t focus on the details; so I now offer concrete help in a way that defies rejection such as asking someone if they want me to make them dinner tonight or tomorrow night. I learned that being busy doesn’t let me off the hook from helping a friend in need since those who helped me did so despite their lack of free time and not because of it.

May we all be in a position to always give and to never receive; but if you are ever in a position where you need help, I hope that you have friends like mine.