Too big to pass

A thoughtful friend sent these flowers on New Year's Eve, 2015. She knew this season was a difficult one for us, so she sent bright flowers to cheer us.

A thoughtful friend sent these flowers on New Year’s Eve, 2015.
She knew this season was a difficult one for us, so she sent bright flowers to cheer us.

“Trouble is a sieve through which we sift our acquaintances. Those too big to pass through are our friends.”Arlene Francis

There are all kinds of reasons why trouble tends to isolate us from others.  Many long to reach out to people in difficulty, but find it emotionally taxing to be present during the trials of others. We may be too sensitive, haunted by sadness after spending time with those who are less fortunate.  Or maybe we have more than enough problems of our own, and thus feel overwhelmed in the face of suffering or crisis in others’ lives.

Often, too, the experience of trouble can change us, making us less reliable, less agreeable or harder to tolerate, thus driving away former or potential friends.  I speak from experience here. I feel as if the past three years have left me ill-equipped to have much to give to anyone, even in my immediate family.  A significant percentage of the time, I feel exhausted, irritable and negative.  Other times I long to retreat to a quiet room and just be by myself with a book or some music. While this solitude is essential and beneficial in reasonable doses, it’s not a recipe for making or keeping friends.

Fortunately, I am blessed to know many who understand these facets of struggle.  Most of you who have been here with me, through all of the ups and downs of the past three (or thirty!) years, have been through various seasons of loss yourselves.  You know, seemingly by instinct, what to do; how to remain loyal and supportive even when doing most of the “give” in the give-and-take that constitutes friendship.

To all of you, my heartfelt thanks. Whether your bouquets have been composed of literal flowers (such as pictured above) or of loving thoughts, prayers, cards and other tokens of support and affection, please know that your presence and kindness make a crucial difference in helping me get through each day, and week, and month.

If you are facing any sort of trouble right now, I wish for you some golden people who are too full of love to pass through that sieve. “Big” is not a description most of us would choose for ourselves, but in the sense that Francis intends in the quote for today, I hope we all experience the joy of knowing– and being– people who are too big to pass through the net of circumstance that separates true friends from acquaintances.

This post was originally published four years ago today, because seven years ago, there was no February 29. As an aside– the four years that came after I wrote these words in 2016 proved beyond my worst imagination how true the theme of this post really is, and how few remain after the sifting of sorrow upon sorrow.

The original post and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Sending blessings and beautiful flowers to you today, Julia, if only in my thoughts. A few spring flowers must be coming up there in Virginia now. So far, we only have Snow on the Mountain ones here. I can hardly wait for the daffodils! Are they blooming there yet?

    • Judy, I have a few daffodils at the York home, but still not many. They seem a bit confused by the off again, on again warm weather. I don’t remember planting any at the northern Virginia home…at least not yet…but I know now that I need to plant them, since deer do not feast on them and we definitely have deer eating up our backyard blooms. I had never heard of Snow on the Mountain plants but the photos of them online that I found look lovely! Thank you for the virtual flowers. As always, they are gorgeous and never fade…

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    Wow, I appreciate this message today! You and Arlene Francis are right on.
    Yesterday I got a phone call from a friend….
    Me: How are you?
    Her: (sniffle) Oh (weep) I’m fine (weep weep)
    So, she is coming over to help me paint a room today. We’ve been friends since eighth grade, and have been through a lot of tears – and laughter – together!
    We will make it through this crisis, too, together.

    • Susan, how wonderful that you called her. I hope the room painting was therapeutic for all– you, your friend and the room! The old saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed” rings so much more true and relevant to me now.

      • Thanks, Julia! We actually skipped painting and went to a dance (exercise) class and had breakfast together.
        Although I listened to her current woes, I was perhaps not entirely sympathetic and later wrote an email expressing my perspective as kindly and lovingly as I could, saying I’d like to talk more about it. I sent a text message to make sure she’d see the email, and now I haven’t heard back for a couple days.
        Well, that’s what friends are for, sometimes, and we don’t always like it. Yikes. That “iron sharpens iron” thing: hopefully we can all learn and grow.
        So I’ll keep reaching out and hopefully we can resolve it soon.

        • Hi Susan, have you heard back from her yet? She could simply be busy with other things, and maybe she is wanting to wait until she has the time needed to compose a thoughtful response to your message (most quick communication is so superficial). As I read your message, I kept thinking of how I’ve been on either end of such transactions…wondering whether my well-meaning (but possibly unsolicited) ideas were offensive, or on the other hand (and more often, lately) being on the receiving end of what were clearly well-intended communications or advice from friends who just didn’t get it, in terms of where I was and what I was dealing with. In one particular case, something was nagging at me about my friend’s actions. Among other things, I realized that the misguided communication (an email) came from a person to whom I might have given a lot of advice for her and her problems over the years, but refrained from sharing my thoughts because I had no illusions that she would actually find them helpful. I kept thinking, “How would she react if I sent her a similar message when she shared her own problems with me?” I felt certain that she would not want or need such advice from me. That helped to clarify why I found her message mostly disappointing. In my own case, I suppose it’s beneficial to ask myself these questions before sending any such messages: 1. How would I feel if I got a similar message from her? and 2. Is there any other way I can express my caring and support without enabling or encouraging what I am seeing as a less-than-ideal response on her part, to difficult circumstances? But the biggest thing I have taken away from such instances, is the resolve to keep my mouth shut when it comes to talking about my own problems. I suppose that’s what professional counselors are for, but in my own defense, they are terribly hard to find since they are all overbooked and either not taking new patients or have only wait lists to offer. If you know anyone looking for a career change, that’s a field where there’s a real shortage (as they all tell me when I call to try to get an appointment). There would be no doubt that one would always have as much work as there were hours available. But I think it would be a very stressful job. I found the same situation when I tried to find a grief support group after Jeff died. There’s a lot of talk about them, but not many (i.e., NONE) available in my area during the times I could have gone to one. But I digress! Back to the topic at hand…experience has taught me that there are very, very, very few people in whom one should confide. Sad but true.

          • Thanks, Julia! I liked that “no illusions that she would actually find them helpful.”
            She may have been more open to my thoughts in the past, and has frequently sought my advice, or moreso lately, my ear.
            Your two questions are good to consider. I think regarding the first question, that if my best friend (or any good friend) were begging to talk to me about her perception of our communication, I would feel compelled to talk to her. But, that’s me. I apparently had illusions that she would want to restore our friendship.
            The second question is going to require some time for me to consider on my own. It’s a good challenge!

            • I would feel compelled to talk, too. But I might not like or accept what she said. If communication does nothing other than putting someone on the defensive (whether that reaction on their part is justified or not) it doesn’t accomplish much improvement. It’s a rare disagreement that doesn’t dissolve into argument and ultimately, too often, anger or estrangement. Again, that’s not how it should be. But that’s my experience.

  3. Sheila

    Julia, the net of circumstances really does have a way of being a sifter of so very much. If only it could collect the woes and troubles of life! As I went to our March Verandah mid morning, I marveled at the beauty. Of course I thought of the special bond that we share through our calendar and our correspondence here. I miss our daily comments to each other but think of you more than you could know. I hope you and Matt are doing well. My family stays busy and are often at 428, which I’m thankful for. We had 12 here for a birthday weekend celebration. Our oldest daughter, Ashley, will be 50 tomorrow. That seems impossible! 🎂 The days really do go much too fast. Thank you for the wonderful post! ♥️

    • Sheila, I do think of you whenever I see the Verandah of the month! I often enjoy the quotes almost as much as the photos. WOW, congratulations on having a 50 year old child, while staying so active and sunny! Even when we don’t hear directly from each other, you stay in my heart and you’re always only a (virtual) cup of tea away! ❤

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: