Some people are mere acquaintances. They never climb the social ladder into the realm of friendship.
Perhaps most people fall into that category – either because we never get to know them very well or because there is no common thread to bind us.
Many people are what we call social friends or activity friends. They are the ones we spend time with in pursuit of something mutually enjoyable.
A few turn out to be true friends. They are the ones who are always there for us, just as we are always there for them.
If you continue up the ladder of friendship, there is one more rung at the pinnacle of our social hierarchy. I call those at this level forever friends.
Forever friends are exactly what the name implies. They aren't your friends only because you live near each other or only because you enjoy the same activities. There's an old saying I love that says some people come into our lives for a season, some come for a reason and some come forever.
It's impossible to see into the future and know who will be a forever friend.
Sometimes, we have a close friend we think will always be part of our life. But maybe we change jobs or move away and that friend gradually fades away.
I read somewhere that friendship is like flowers. It has to be watered. And we water friendship by spending time together, by being there when needed, regardless of circumstance.
That's only true to a small extent. Forever friends fall into a rarefied category that doesn't need constant nurturing to survive.
The thing is, we never know what friends will turn into forever friends.
When I made the big lifestyle move of retiring and moving to Florida, I had a lot of precious friends. I thought I knew which ones would remain forever friends.
I was right about some, wrong about others. Some friendships fade when we're not nearby to feed the relationship with shared experiences.
But for those who remain forever friends, there is a bond that grows deeper each year. I am blessed to have some incredible forever friends.
Len is one of my forever friends. At first, we formed a friendship for a common reason – we worked together. Then, as we spent time socially, it became obvious we shared some important common values.
I remember way back to 30 years ago when we first became friends.
Over lunch one day, Len told me his theory about friendship. "If you have more true friends than you have fingers on one hand, you are truly blessed," he said.
I told him I did and I knew I was blessed.
I didn't know too much about forever friends back then. I expected many of my favorite friends would be my friends forever. And, some are. We stay close despite the distance that separates us, even though we don't see much of each other.
Back then, I suspected Len would always be a loyal friend. I didn't know he would be a forever friend.
Through the years, as our families spent time together and we shared the pains and pleasures of life, Len and his wife formed a bond with me and my husband that grew stronger with the years.
Here's the best example I have of Len's friendship. When my husband had his first stroke, it was touch and go before he was stabilized. I stayed by his side in the hospital, reluctant to leave his bedside.
Hours later, when I did walk outside the room to get coffee, I saw Len sitting quietly in the waiting room and asked what he was doing there.
I'll never forget his answer.
"I'm just sitting here in case you need me," he said.
That's Lenny for you. No grandstand speeches, no grand gestures. Just quiet, genuine reliability.
When Andy was transferred to a rehab hospital, some stayed away because they said they couldn't stand seeing what happened to him.
Lenny, on the other hand, went to the rehab center after work to shave Andy and to offer encouragement.
They say men grow closer in foxholes. Going through a devastating illness together is like sharing a foxhole and surviving the war.
Len's family and mine survived a few wars in the past and I suspect we'll face a few more in the future.
I was excited last week as I cooked some meals and got the house ready for a visit from Len, Sis and family. Although we send emails often and talk on the phone, we hadn't been together for about a year.
So how long did it take for our friendship to resume its effortless comfort?
Less than the time it takes a heart to beat.
That's how it is with forever friends. No matter how long it's been since you last saw each other, it feels like you've never been apart.
Since Len and his family went home, I've been thinking about how forever friends are life's treasures.
I wish I could talk about forever friends and not use Len's name. He embarrasses easily and is a private person.
But I think he won't mind if I ruminate about forever friends. He's right when he says if you have more than one, you are extraordinarily blessed.
How many forever friends do you have?
Which of your present friends do you think will turn into a forever friend?