November 11, 2019

My Life with Friends

“With a friend at hand, you will see the light. If your friends are there, then everything’s all right.” — Elton John/Bernie Taupin,“Friends”

“If you live to be 100, I hope to live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.” — Winnie the Pooh

My parents didn’t have many friends. So when my father died, my mother had almost no one to talk with. I’d call her and say, “Who did you talk to today?” Her answer most of the time was, “No one.” 

Mom lived alone in Florida and I live in Los Angeles. When a person you love is thousands of miles away and in pain, phone calls do little to alleviate it. Two of her sisters lived near her but after a lifetime of arguing, there was little communication among them. I tried to get Mom to join a senior club or a temple but she always had an excuse. 

A musty, humid Florida damp permeated her apartment. Most afternoons, she would sit in her rocker watching talk shows. I can’t imagine how lonesome her evenings must have been. 

One morning, we got a call that she had been found dead on the apartment floor. She’d been dead for a day or so. Did she kill herself or die by another cause? I’ll never know. 

In her younger days, she had an outgoing, warm and friendly side to her. She loved movies, theater, reading and music. She was also a terrific knitter. When I was a kid, if she needed yarn, we would go down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to get it. Then at home, I would hold a skein of yarn between my hands while she rolled it into a ball. I loved doing that with her. She made the best sweaters. Putting one on, I could feel the love that went into it. 

But all that seemed to fade after my father’s death. I saw how her life changed and how it ended, and I realized how important it is to have friends and to fight off loneliness. We are born alone and we die alone. In our hour of greatest agony, we’re also alone. How very important it is to have someone to talk to and spend time with. 

“If you have friends, be grateful you have someone to talk to and laugh with. If you don’t, get some. It’s not hard.”

I have a great family and many friends but there are days I feel alone. I know I’m not, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling that way. New Yorkers will tell you it’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of 10,000. 

I accept the fact that loneliness is part of the human condition. Everyone feels it. When you get an unexpected medical diagnosis. When someone close to you dies. When you have a fight with your child and he or she refuses to talk to you. When your spouse threatens to walk out. When you wake up at 2 a.m. and think you’ll never find someone to share your life with. When you have to put down your dog. 

Having friends is good for your health and helps fight loneliness. So I belong to a synagogue and go regularly. People know me, say hello to me and seem genuinely glad that I’m there. That helps. For the past 15 years, my wife and I have belonged to a “Shabbos Potluck Group” that meets at a different house once a month. That helps. I meet with male friends at least twice a week. That helps. I have a job that I love and friends who respect what I do. That helps. And I call someone almost every day to see how he or she is doing. By checking in on someone else, you stop thinking about your problems, even if it’s for only five minutes. Now, make your own list. 

If you have friends, be grateful you have someone to talk to and laugh with. If you don’t, get some. It’s not hard. You know that person you’ve been telling for years that you want to have lunch with — get together with them. There are plenty of people waiting for you to call them or knock on their door. You’re never too old to make new friends.

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.