Last night was a magically-breezy evening in Battery Park City, the perfect temperature for dinner outside on the Hudson, the occasion being a birthday party for my great friend Jason VanOra, Associate Professor of Psychology at Kingsborough Community College. Over guacamole and chips, chicken quesadillas, and a chocolate brownie sundae, Jason, who looks about 22, made me feel a bit old, as I have a belt older than him! But I was very happy to celebrate, together with our close friends Peg and my sister Debby.
Occasionally in life, you come upon someone who not only has great intelligence and charm, but also a warmly empathetic nature too. There’s an instant “click.” And that person, with whom you have great chemistry, gradually joins the category of “best friend.”
Well, that’s Jason! My perspicacious, always sunny-and-buoyant friend is a once-in-a life-time find. I met him five years ago at a get together in Greenwich Village and ever since, we’ve been having dinner almost every Friday night.
I can’t tell you how many evenings we’ve spent strolling around the Village talking about anything and everything, laughing hilariously, people-watching, and musing on life’s ups and downs. And like any best friend, Jason lifts my spirits, expressing his caring unconditionally, with no judgement. This is rare–and to be greatly valued.
In fact, last night’s party for Jason got me thinking about friendship in general. After all, the entire theme of my book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, is about creating the journey from friendship to family, our core group being my astutely-intelligent dog, Katie, my octogenarian friend Pearl, her husband Arthur, a little boy named Ryan, who had no Mom, his Dad, John, and me. And as I say in the book trailer: “That’s the amazing thing about family. It’s anything you want it to be.”
I can’t tell you how therapeutic it was for me to be part of such a fantastic group, one made even closer as we all lived along the same 120-foot hallway. Apartment doors were swinging open all day long–with my dog racing up and down the hall, chasing tennis balls and Ryan, running circles around Pearl, all of us sharing dinner together and long walks along the Hudson. It was the best of times. And to have close friends surround you, in a family circle, gives you the support and sustenance you need, getting you through every twist and turn of life. . As the late Wayne Dyer once told me, “God can appear in many disguises–even as a dog!”and I might add, even as a friend as well!
And beyond emotional support, I remember reading a great article last year in the New York Times about the health benefits of having friends–which include reducing heart disease, obesity, stress, lowering blood pressure, and creating all-important feel-good endorphins. People with friends feel more relaxed and at peace, so that the ultimate health benefit of friendship is living a longer, healthier life.
I can tell you that Jason makes my life more fun and interesting, and easier to handle. At the end of a long week, spending time with a close friend like him is as good as any therapy session. In fact, surprisingly, even spending time with an intimate partner doesn’t always provide the same health benefits as friendship, for good friends offer a different kind of support than lovers, siblings, parents, or children.
P.S. As all you dog lovers know, man’s BEST friend, of course, is his D O G! It’s been proven that dog owners live longer, easily stave off loneliness and isolation, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, a brightened mood, and, of course, reap the benefits of lots of exercise with all those walks.
I once figured out that I walked my curiously-energetic dog, Katie, more than 20,000 times over the course of nearly 15 years. How many miles is that? And who needs the gym?!