I sat on the raft shivering, my arms wrapped tight around my legs. I was a scrawny little ten-year-old, and the icy water of early June had left me breathless. But the swim had been worth it.
I was in my own little world on that raft. I loved staring at the water’s glittering surface as the sun reflected like little diamonds off the ripples. I closed me eyes and listened to the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.
But my solitude was soon interrupted by voices across the water. Water dripped down my eyes onto my blue lips as I squinted to try to see the scene unfolding.
A lady had walked out onto the pier. She was wearing a massive, floppy white hat, sunglasses, and a floral caftan that swirled around her ankles in the breeze. I rudely stared, trying to figure out if she was a movie star. She was waving her arms in exasperation at a stout little girl with frizzy blond hair and glasses. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but the girl nervously shook her head “no” at this flamboyant woman, refusing whatever it was she wanted her to do.
They both kept looking in my direction, and I slowly realized that this exchange had something to do with me. The woman nudged the girl forward while the girl adamantly shook her head. And suddenly, the lady flashed me an imploring smile.
“Hello! Hi there! Excuse me!”
I didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure what to say.
So she continued, “This is Julie! Can she play with you?”
It was obvious to all parties that Julie was mortified by her mother’s advances. And frankly, I had been quite content to play alone. But what was I supposed to say? This was a day and age when you didn’t tell adults no. And I felt a little sorry for this Julie whose mom was clearly embarrassing her.
So I gave a tentative nod and shrug. The mom beamed in victory.
Julie jumped in, sputtering at the frigid water, and swam out to the raft. She climbed up and sat dripping beside me.
“Hello, ” she shivered a greeting from trembling blue lips.
“Hi.” I answered back.
I wasn’t sure what to do with her. I mean, it was an awkward situation for the both of us. I wasn’t really playing, and I wasn’t sure how to include her in my daydreaming. Yet, I felt responsible to entertain her.
The awkwardness soon gave way to fun.
Before long we were jumping in and out of the freezing water, laughing and daring each other to do tricks off the raft. We pretended we were synchronized swimmers choreographing our Olympic routine. We hung out that night, watching movies with popcorn.
And the day after that. And the day after that.
Summer days and nights stretched on and nary a minute went by that we weren’t at each other’s side. And I never forgot how her mom had pushed her to ask me to play.
Like Julie’s mom, I often encourage my kids to introduce themselves to others when we find ourselves in new settings or on playgrounds. And it never takes long for kids to make connections and get busy playing. But most of the time I notice the moms hang back, not talking to each other.
And one day it hit me, do adults need our moms to do this for us still? Because we shouldn’t.
The first step to friendship hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. It’s actually quite simple.
Ask if she’d like to play.
So often we turn meeting others into some big complicated thing. Too often we stay on the sidelines, hesitant to reach out and introduce ourselves. Settling for loneliness or the companionship of a handheld rather than facing an awkward hello. And I wonder how many relationships are missed when we let fear win and don’t take the simple advice our moms gave us.
The next time we find ourselves on the sidelines, it might be up to us to make the first move. Let’s put ourselves out there. And say hello.
We just might find the friend of a lifetime.
Related: Gift this lovely small ring holder to hold your friend’s treasures and thank her for being who she is — a “lovely friend.”