“It’s Rachel!”

While working at Cottage Rehab (CR), a local physical therapy place, over the past four years, I have heard similar greetings from many of the wellness members as they walk through the front doors.

After graduating from Monmouth College this spring, I knew my time at CR was winding down. I decided to continue working throughout most of the summer before tackling my next adventure. A few weeks ago my boss asked me if I had picked a final day for my time at CR; he jokingly asked if I was just going to stay forever. It really is the perfect job. I could hang out (sometimes literally!), do a little work, and maybe watch some ESPN from a treadmill.

This is what I get paid for??
This is what I get paid for??

As I’ve thought more about what my boss said, I wish I could keep this job forever. Most of the members have 30+ years of life experiences on me, but I still consider them my good friends. In fact, many of these people stopped by my recent graduation open house. My mom noticed that the majority of my friends at the party were 65+. I just smiled at this comment, because I am blessed to have friends with so much wisdom. From them, I have learned what it means to truly be a “friend.”

  • Friends are constant. My friends at CR constantly checked in about my school plans, my job(s), and they always remembered my weekend plans. While I was still in school, they asked what books I was reading and what papers I was working on. They would remember these assignments throughout the week, and they never failed to check in the following week: Did you finish your reading? What grade did you earn on your paper? I have worked many random “side-jobs” throughout my time at CR. I have been a babysitter, dogsitter, housesitter, and even plantsitter. (Some of these jobs have actually been for the members of CR!) My friends here always ask me how these jobs are going. They never forget. Every Saturday, many of my CR friends ask what my weekend plans are. They are genuinely interested, and they always ask how things went the following week. They also hold me accountable by reminding me to “Be safe” and “Don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do.”
  • Friends notice the small things. Like when I get my hair cut or what my t-shirt says. (I have had entire conversations evolve from the few simple words on my t-shirt.) My friends here noticed when I straighten my hair versus wearing it up in a ponytail. Sometimes, my friends came inside and immediately asked if I recently washed my car, claiming it looked shinier than usual. They went beyond simply noticing these small things, however. They complimented me. They made me feel happy. Whether it was the headband in my hair or the color of my phone case, my CR friends made me feel good inside through these kind-hearted compliments.
  • Friends share in major life moments, but they also congratulate each other for the small victories. While I received cards from my CR friends for my birthday and graduation, I found far greater joy when they shared in my small, day-to-day victories. When I went through the teacher education program at Monmouth College, they shared in each small step of the process. Whenever I finished a long paper for a college class, they praised me for my work ethic. When I survived a long week of being a full-time student and working multiple part-time jobs, they cheered me on and motivated me to keep pushing forward.
  • Friends share endless encouragement through every step of life’s journey. I will share more in future posts, but 2015 has been a year of self-growth. In January, I made the decision to flip my entire world upside down. I took everything I had been working toward for many years, professionally, and packed it away. Instead of pursuing teacher certification, I made the decision to explore alternative methods of learning and with different age groups. It was crazy.. to leap without seeing the safety net. Most people expressed their immediate disappointment or frustration or confusion with my choice. However, my friends at CR never once criticized my decision.image3 (2) They asked questions until they understood from my perspective. They offered constant advice and shared their own personal experiences. I felt comforted, encouraged, and determined to continue forward with my new journey.

Through these moments and many others, I have learned one more critical piece of friendship: it has to be two-sided. These friendships would not have developed if I wouldn’t have offered a friendly hello as the CR members walked through the doors. And I wouldn’t have continued saying hello if these people brushed away my greetings.

Friendships are not easy. They require hard work from both people invested in the relationship. Throughout my time at CR, I found common interests with my eventual friends. I also discovered what topics were unique to each of my friends, and they learned what topics made my eyes light up with passion.

Throughout my time at CR, I kept working on these friendships and the members here worked towards knowing me better. In the beginning, our evolving friendships were often like a match of tug of war. I would pull too hard and knock down my friends by asking about a topic that made them sad or upset. My friends would then pull me to the ground by asking too many questions or being overly enthusiastic on those early Saturday mornings (did I mention I’m not a morning person??). We eventually found the balance, and the topics and hobbies, that made our friendships grow.

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After spending four years at a physical therapy place, it might seem odd that my biggest take-away is an understanding of authentic friendship. It has nothing to do with the exercise equipment or my daily work tasks. It has everything to do with the people on those exercise machines. People are what matter.

If friendship were a flower, I have learned that it must be rooted in unconditional encouragement. It must be watered with consistency. The gardener and the flower are in a relationship together; the flower relies on the gardener as much as the gardener relies on the flower. The gardener must not overlook the little complexities of the flower, and the flower must appreciate the extra moments of pruning and care given by the gardener. While blooming is the ultimate goal for the flower and the gardener, the bloom will not happen without the aforementioned pieces.