'The Group,' a set of women who've remained friends over the decades, recently gathered to mark 47 years of the friendship at Palmettos On The Bayou in Slidell. Celebrating are, from left, Lydia Johnson, Anita Dabon, Janice Foster, Linda King, Marquita Kimbrough and Marlene Robinson.

In the early weekends of her childhood, I often took our daughter to feed the ducks at a nearby pond, the feathered horde encircling her as she doled out crusts of bread. Those trips always delighted her, and they gave her an enduring sense that life is best when you’re surrounded by friends.

A child’s play life sometimes says a lot about the people they’ll grow up to be. No one is surprised when the youngster fascinated by building blocks becomes an architect, the toddler drawn to paints and colors flourishes into an artist, or the little one inseparable from a ball matures into a champion athlete.

From an early age, our daughter played at friendship. The tiny tea table in her bedroom was always ready to entertain an assortment of stuffed animals. A menagerie of make-believe companions spilled from the bathtub. For several years, our house was a colony of dolls.

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She bought new ones with birthday and Christmas money, taking long walks through the toy aisles before, inevitably, heading to the cash register with another plastic infant cradled in her arms.

I once asked her why she kept bringing more home. “They seem so alone staring at me from inside the box,” she told me. “I don’t want them to be lonely.”

Like my late mother, a social creature to the bone, our daughter counts loneliness as the world’s greatest evil, the company of others as its greatest blessing. As she grew, her classmates became the real friends she’d once imagined having as she talked to Teddy bears and chatted with Barbies. When we dropped her off at birthday parties or school functions, she jumped into the fray as if diving for pearls. The treasure she was after was a set of open arms, the embrace of those who accept her without condition.

Now graduated from college and headed out of state to start a career, our daughter wondered if we might gather some of the people who mean the most to her so she could say goodbye. They packed the house a couple of weeks ago — bright young men and women perched on the arms of sofas, gathered around the Brie, spilling into the patio.

You want so much for your kids — a good job, decent home, a steadily accumulating 401(k). You also hope, in the mix, that they’ll have emotional and spiritual prosperity, too — the kind of enrichment that comes from connecting with a community beyond themselves.

Those kinds of bonds aren’t inevitable, as any glance at the headlines makes clear. The news cycle routinely brings reports that despite — or maybe because of — social media, an epidemic of loneliness sweeps the land.

So I felt lucky to raise a glass to my daughter this month, cheered by a roomful of people who cherish her as much as I do.

May love follow her wherever she goes.


Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.