Thank You For Being A Friend

Dictionary.com defines the word “Friend” as  “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.”   Interesting.  Very interesting.  Can such a simplistic definition accurately define what a “friend” really means in our lives?  I am of the opinion that this brief definition barely scratches the surface on the significance and importance of what a true friend really means to us or perhaps what it has evolved to be in our modern society. 

I must first admit that I am truly a very lucky man.  I have friendships today that have lasted, are currently active, and have survived the past 25 years. (more than half my life)   These friendships have surpassed distances of states, countries, even continents and surprisingly flourished when email was merely but a techies wet-dream.  At times, due to lack of fundage and the relative high costs of long distance calling around 1985, the only means of communication between my friends and I was old-fashioned snail mail, when a first class stamp would set you back a whopping 22 cents.  A gallon of gas set you back $1.12 but that is subject for another post.  If we wanted to “listen” to each others voices we would record a cassette tape with jokes, updates and the occasional farting noise.  With great anticipation we would send that off to our friends who resided in other parts of the country.  Admittedly, sending international mail was something way beyond our means at the time.  Often long distance friendships would be put on temporary hold until the next summer vacation rolled around and our intimate group would be reunited.

My friendships have made it through a business partnership, unsuccessfully dating one of my best-friends’ sister, and even losing complete touch for several years.  The true test of my friendships was ultimately my selfishness and self-centerdness, combined with my chaotic and turmoil filled life which ordinarily should have driven everyone away.  Yet, through it all, my friends didn’t give up on me and stuck beside me through thick and thin; through good and bad, through havoc and eventually peace.  My friends were more loyal and devoted than either one of my ex-wives.  Like I said, I am truly a very lucky man.

Friends come in all shapes, colors and sizes.  We meet our friends through a myriad of situations.  One of my best friends I met on a beach; turns out we lived in the same condo in South Florida.  I was 12 years old and this soon to be friend ripped me off by selling me a used skim board  for an astronomical price at the time, with the promise of free lessons.  Not the way you would typically imagine a life long friendship to begin.  Years later I would enact my vengeance by dating his sister for 5 1/2 years!  Truly the woman I thought I would marry, life had other plans for me, and while the relationship with the sister didn’t last, the friendship prevailed and exists today stronger than ever.  More than a friendship, I now consider it a brotherhood.

With one BFF in my life, I was blessed to meet what would become BFF #2 during Junior High School.  A new transfer to our school, as far as I can remember, I approached “Fred” because I saw him eating lunch by himself and frankly looking really sad.  I believe his version of the events are totally different and in his account it is ME looking sad and eating my PB&J alone during lunch hour.  The beauty of it is, that how we met is actually rather insignificant but the fact that 25 years later I can still call Fred one of my best friends is a blessing beyond words.  My friendship with Fred actually blossomed during our High School years when we became writing partners for our Senior yearbook, gave the play-by-play for the powder puff football game and even planned and executed the birthday kidnapping of our Dean of Students to a local Friday’s restaurant.  During High School Fred and I were inseparable, and our greatest accomplishment was serenading our Principal, Ms. Butts, with the Top Gun version of “You Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” while standing on the roof of an orange-colored Bronco.  Fred and I created many memories that I will cherish forever and have the pleasure of recounting these adventures anytime we get together.

While my friendship with Fred is unique and extremely special, I have somehow been blessed to have another friendship with someone whom I truly believe must have been separated at birth from me.  While there is a 5 year difference between the two of us, this age factor has never been an issue for us.  Sharing the same first name, my friend RICH has the age advantage over me or perhaps more experience shall we say.  The term a “Brother from another Mother” is so appropriate in our case that it is almost eerie and scary.  Rich is Mr. Skim Board.  Remember, the guy who swindled me out of my hard-earned money back on that beach when I was 12?  Yeah well, 25 years later, through the fiasco of dating his sister, we are still friends and grow closer every year.  We crossed the line of friendship years ago and became family….unofficially as there are no legal ties making us such, but we are family.  He is my brother and I would do anything for him.  That bond and feeling of loyalty, trust, and yes even love, while never discussed between us, I know is mutual.  Once again, I am a very lucky man.

So the question beckons.  What is a friend?  Over the last three years I have been fortunate enough to meet many people, through a fellowship I belong to, that have taught me what friendship is all about. They have offered of themselves to me, asking nothing in return.  They have supported me, loved me, confided in me, trusted me, and most importantly believed in me when I found it impossible to believe in myself.  They loved me until I was able to love myself.  They saw me through my darkest days and offered me a priceless gift…..HOPE.  These new-found friends of mine, some of which have come and gone, helped me realize how important my other friendships, such as the ones with Fred and Rich, truly are.  They made me realize how blessed I am to have these gentlemen in my life.  They showed me that friendships are a two-way street and that over the past 25 years, my actions have sometimes been ridiculously selfish.  I have learned the error of my ways, and can admit that at times, in the past, I have been a terrible friend.  I am a very lucky man because in spite of myself and my actions my friends have stuck by me; they have loved me in spite of myself.  They haven’t given up on me and have waited patiently for me to become the kind of friend they have always been to me.  Ironically, it took other great friends of mine to teach me this and allow me to make the necessary changes.

So to end this longer than expected tribute to friendship, a friend is someone who sticks beside you no matter what; through thick and thin.  A friend will not only help you grow, mature and change but give you the space and time to do so.  A true friendship isn’t jeopardized by space, distance or time and if a solid relationship exists it can survive almost any challenge posed before it.  Real friends do not judge yet are readily available to tell you the truth, about anything, as painful as it may be.  Requirements for friendship do not include lending you money, providing you a place to live, securing employment for you, giving you rides, or even feeding you.  To expect this from others cancels your own qualifications as a friend.  However, in my definition, a friend offers their shoulder without hesitation, or more poetically, stretches out their hand and pulls you from whatever crevice you may be in at the time.  A friend has the knowledge and restraint to listen and offer advice when appropriate.  A friend will end a conversation with a hug or an “I Love You.”  A real friend may not necessarily bail you out of jail, but will visit you on a weekly basis and get you some commissary.  A real friend will never shy away from the truth but will support you unconditionally.  A real friend simply understands and loves you in spite of….

So if I am lucky enough to call YOU a friend, I simply say “Thank You”. 

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
– Helen Keller

 

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If We Are Lucky…

Life takes many twists and turns, but eventually, if we are lucky, we get a chance to “Go Home”.  By “Home” I may not necessarily mean our childhood residence, country of birth or even our parents domicile but rather “Going Home” for me, means briefly returning to that place or situation where we felt the most comfortable at some point in our lives.  For this writer, going home meant going back to High School and reliving some incredible memories, wholesome fun and just a tad of innocent mischief. 

I recently attended my 20 year High School reunion.  While the thought of my 20th reunion makes me feel my age, a feeling I have fought tooth and nail to avoid, I was enthusiastic about seeing old friends, perhaps an old crush and even an old childhood rival.  I was lucky enough to experience all of that, and then some.  The evening started most embarrassing as I approached a gentleman dressed all in black and requested he bring me a beverage.  To my chagrin, this “waiter” was one of my old high school friends who I simply did not recognize.  After apologizing profusely, we caught up and exchanged the cliff notes version of our lives during the past 20 years. 

The old high school crush did make an appearance and frankly, she looked amazing.  The teenage awkwardness on her part had been replaced by an air of confidence and self-worth, along with a genuine smile that lit up the room.  Her boyfriend I could have done without, but while she presented herself as a strong, confident woman my teenage insecurities and self-consciousness seemed to make a return almost as immediately as she walked into the room.  It seems that the nervous dynamic between man and woman or boy/girl in my case at least, never seems to change regardless of how many ticks go by on the calendar. 

While the immediate moments following her entrance were consumed with “The Crush”, and determining the seriousness of her new relationship, more subsequent time was spent and dedicated to catching up with old friends.  There were the jocks, who shall we say politely, may have put on a few pounds over the last 20 years, along with the nerds who frankly weren’t so nerdy now and had turned their dedication to their school work into an impressive career. There was the class clown (ME) with a new-found seriousness that was almost eerie, and of course the party guy who was tanked by the time he arrived.  It was an eclectic mix of characters and while physically many of us changed, got older and developed careers as well as started families, deep down we remained the same. 

The real highlight of my evening though was a special surprise guest.  Namely our Dean of Students and Journalism teacher.  If We Are Lucky, someone comes into our lives at some stage or another and makes a significant impact on our development.  This was the case with my Ms. Cramer.  I say “my” Ms. Cramer because through my last two years of high school this woman became not only my teacher, my mentor, my advisor and my friend.  We built a bond between teacher and student that I cherish to this day, 20 years later.     

The title of this post is “If We Are Lucky” and I named it that because over my reunion weekend I got the honor to do something few of us, I assume, get the opportunity to do.  I got the privilege of sitting across my teacher, Ms. Cramer, as two adults now and thanking her for her devotion, care and leadership.  Being a teacher cannot be easy and standing at the front of room facing 25-30 smartass 17 year olds would frighten anyone.  Yet Ms. Cramer not only commanded respect and attention, but she also grasped our attention with her teachings and lessons.  While she demonstrated this hard, tough facade, those who knew her saw a totally different side.  Beneath that mask, the true Sher Cramer was and is the most loving, caring and nurturing human being I have ever met. (My Mother excluded!)  I was lucky enough to say “Thank You.  You made a huge impact in  my life,” and that dear friends is one of the reasons why I am so lucky.   Blessings Always.