As we grow older, many of us shut ourselves off to true friendships, hiding within ourselves the best gift we have to offer. With this in mind, the Fidalgo Island Writers Guild asked the children of Anacortes to share with all of us what makes a person a good friend through the eyes of their youthful hearts. More than one hundred children responded…
I’ve received essays, stories, poems, letters, and drawings from Anacortes children in my mailbox nearly everyday for the past five weeks about “What Makes A Good Friend?” to them. They openly shared with me in their own words and color-crayon drawn pictures, knowing I would eventually share with you. From the beautiful simplicity and innocence of a young child’s heart to the age of the breaking of innocence of a young adult, the words and pictures say more than what is physically on each page. The younger ages (K-2), who are allowed to share their thoughts on this topic through the form of pictures just might have the upper hand on sharing what’s in their hearts. I find myself wondering if in next year’s contest the older students should receive the same opportunity – a picture to accompany a well-written essay. If a picture says a thousand words, then the Kindergarten through 2nd grade students are allowed 1,000 words plus an extra few sentences to tie it all together, while the 3rd-8th grade students are only allowed a maximum of 500 words to tell us their heart-felt stories of a truly good friend.
In response to parents and students who have asked me why we chose this exact question, know that we chose the writing prompt with care and good reason. As simple as the question sounds, to truly answer from the heart requires much personal thought, delving into issues of the heart, and an inner search for what really matters. In essence we were asking many questions within one. We could have asked what makes them a good friend, but we switched it around to make them think about what makes them feel cared for, loved, trusted and comforted. Within thinking and writing about it from that direction we hoped they would more readily realize what they need to work on in themselves in order to be a good friend in return – and a genuinely good person. After reading many of the children’s entries, that is exactly what happened.
Island View Elementary mom, Megan Ufkes, upon sending in two of her boys submissions, wrote this: “My youngest son, Owen, is only 4 and isn’t in Kindergarten until next year but he really wanted to weigh in on this topic. I think that speaks volumes to the topic chosen! ” What makes a good friend?” Great choice! Everyone in my family had an opinion on what did make a good friend. What a great dinner conversation for all my boys. My one reluctant writer may submit later this month. But I think he learned that a great way to start writing is to have something worth writing about…that it makes the effort seem effortless. Thanks much.”
As most of you reading this are likely adults, what would you write on this subject and would you feel as eager as 4-year-old Owen? Do our daily duties so encumber us and past hurts duly haunt us too deeply for us to recognize a good friend? For that matter, do we remember how to be one? If we do remember, I wonder if we allow ourselves the same vulnerability that a child does to actually be that friend or accept that friendship if it’s offered to us. As adults we often say that childhood was tortuous, the mean-nature of other children brutal, and the awkward childhood moments have us not wanting to go back if we had the chance. From these experiences we often learn to close ourselves off in order to walk through this world less scathed by heartbreak and embarrassment. The result is walking through life not only less touched by it’s heartache but by it’s beauty. Do we understand and experience friendship at its peak during our youth? Maybe if we all had to enter this contest, forced to reach into our hearts and really search ourselves, the remembrance of friendship would inevitably resurface. A child’s heart is a beautiful and breathtaking thing to behold. They trust, they befriend, and they love. Even when hurt they quickly search out and offer friendship and love again with a willing and hopeful heart – a heart that believes.
“We went to see my friend [who had Leukemia]. She had lost all of her hair and she was weak from the medicine. I helped [her] go up and down the stairs…made her laugh…made her smile…that is my friend…” Matthew Rutz, 2nd grade
The stories I have in my possession from our very own Anacortes children are stories from these hearts that still believe in pure love and forever friendships – hearts that hope without the need for proof and often in spite of it. All of these stories, whether written in words or through pictures, will soon make up a book for them to have and for all of us to read. I challenge you to pick it up and read it. These children who chose to write or draw from their hearts about friendship – these children we often look at as childish – live life with more wisdom than most of us. They may act childish at times, they’re supposed to, but they get to live with childlike hearts. As we grow older life can become an obscure picture of what we used to know to be truth blurred with what the world tells us is truth. I think we live with the most wisdom when we are very young, and again when we are very old. During those middle years we experience a different kind of sensory overload. All that surrounds us serves to distract us and blinds us to the simple things that matter most as we slip into autopilot mode. Four-year-old Owen tells us simply that, “A friend is nice…and love…and being brothers.” If we make a point to reconnect with our childlike heart we would all abundantly benefit. I am not saying to behave with a careless and childish nature. I’m asking that we find our fearless, childlike hearts. I am asking for each of us to go out and truly be a good friend. And these children’s words and picture stories are here to help us do that.
So from the words of our own Anacortes children and young adults, from Kindergarten through 8th grade, this is what makes a good friend:
“A good friend…likes you for who you are…cheers for you and celebrates with you… tries not to hurt your feelings… forgives when you are sorry…stands up for you…is thoughtful and kind…is someone who you can trust and believe…listens to you…enjoys your sense of humor…splits their last piece of gum with you…helps you, includes you, worries about you when you’re not feeling well and thinks about you when you’re not there. A good friend is someone you want to spend time with. A good friend is loyal…never ignores you…shares lunch with you if you don’t have one…never pressures you or makes fun of you…respects you, believes you without question, and does not keep secrets from you or lie to you. Loyal…loyal…loyal.”
“A good friend is always respectful…always there…sometimes you will need a friend and sometimes they will need you! Do not let a friend down.” Alyssa Digweed, 2nd grade.
“To be a good friend to someone you should do all these things…if you and your friend both do them you will be good friends forever.” – Aidan Ufkes, 4th grade
“So if you don’t have a friend I’ll be your friend…and if you do have one enjoy them, because if they have to move away…you’ll have sweet memories of your friend before they [are gone].” Lucy Shainin, 2nd grade
I’ve relearned and relived much over the past weeks as each essay, story, poem or picture came to my mailbox for me to read. Now comes the rest of the story – sharing all of these with all of you and hoping you’ll each find some unexpected truth you’d simply forgotten or piece of wisdom you never had. Whatever it is, I hope it feels like finding a long lost friend.
“Good friends are a blessings and you never know when you’ll find one in your life…” Brandon Tennant, 8th grade
For more information or to donate contact Fidalgo Island Writers Guild/FIWG for Literacy Program at 293-1166 or write directly to the guild at:
Fidalgo Island Writers Guild
13207 Satterlee Road
Anacortes, WA 98221