Pillars

“Friends are the pillars on your porch. Sometimes they hold you up, sometimes they lean on you, and sometimes it’s just enough to know that they are standing by.” – Unknown

Having read posts from Psychevida and Thoughts On Theatre about friendship and gratitude over the past 24 hours has spurred me to begin culling together about twenty quotes, anecdotes and writings I’d stored away for the past year on the subject of friendship.

A few years ago I had a discussion with a wonderful friend of mine about language and terms of endearment. Suzi was born in Jordan before immigrating to America at the tender age of one with her parents. We spoke of language and the meaning behind words. While in America we casually throw around terms of endearment such as babe, honey or sweetie, the Arab people use words with much deeper meaning. She told me that in Arabic they use terms such as “my soul” (rouhi), “my heart” (albi), “my eyes” (ouni), or “my love” (habibi – when referring to men and habibti – for the women).

Friends, and many things, have been on my mind of late. Last night I finished the Michael O’Brien novel The Father’s Tale around 12:30am. As I closed the book with much satisfaction I was also a little sad as I was saying goodbye to characters I’d grown to love for the past 2-3 weeks of reading its 1,072 pages. “I’ll get to revisit them when I read it again,” I said to myself while turning off my bedside lamp. But then another thought crept into my head. The one that says I’m getting older…time is more precious. Indeed it is running out. Don’t spend it revisiting things you’ve already done. Move forward.

Remember how when you were younger you could just waste an entire day? Week? Month? A whole summer vacation! You had all the time in the world. Before being old enough to get a summer job you could listen to the same cassette tape or album(!) over and over and not think twice about it. I used to read the same comic books again and again until they were memorized before I hit 13. Or spend a day watching MTV (when they still played music videos).

I can no longer do that. I have responsibilities as a husband and father. This keeps me from listening to music all day (now on an iPod). Or watching MTV (which is unbearable for five minutes, let alone five hours). And as for reading? I’ve accumulated such a library of books that I know in all likelihood I’ll read each volume just once. Alas, there are several that I may never read.

This brings me back to friendships.

Have you ever thought about all of the people you have encountered during your lifetime? The people you’ve passed on the sidewalk, nodding with a smile or making eye contact. Those for whom you’ve held a door open. Those who have done the same for you. People with whom you stand in line at a checkout counter, or those who stand or sit around you in a theater or while awaiting to be seated in a restaurant. And on and on and on. I wonder how many individual human lives have we had the opportunity to encounter over the course of our years? If we’re lucky we have 2-3 or more deep, rich friendships. Friends to whom we can go to and talk with about anything, no matter how long the interval was between conversations. If we’re blessed we share a bit of ourselves each day with those with whom we come in contact, whether by our own initiation or theirs. I’ve written of these moments before in this post, but today I’d like to add another such moment if you’ll indulge me.

I have developed a bad habit: every morning around 9:30 I leave my 3rd floor desk to walk two downtown blocks to a Starbucks. I became addicted to Peppermint Mochas during Christmas 2010. When informed by my barista that I can have them 365 days a year at their location I got hooked. What’s worse is I add a blueberry streusel muffin to this routine a few days out of the week. I don’t even want to know how many calories it is. I don’t care. Just gimme that muffin.

I frequent the place enough that I am on a first name basis with several of the employees. There’s Karen, whose children attend the same high school as my oldest son. There’s Cayleigh, a young woman who has begun to train for and compete in 5K, 10K and half-marathons. There is also Tina.

While standing in line yesterday and talking to Cayleigh about her training while Karen was making my addiction, another employee was excitedly talking to the female customer yesterday. They obviously knew each other. This customer had just shared the news that while she and her husband where in their early to mid forties they had finally, and unexpectedly, achieved pregnancy. They had given up after years and years of trying and now were glowing and scared and excited about having a baby. Tina, who was standing nearby, congratulated the woman and with a slight sigh shared that she and her husband had been trying for years but with no success. After the newly pregnant woman walked away I told Tina how my wife and I had tried for years after the birth of our first born. Of how we rejected our then OB-GYN’s solutions that went against our faith. And of how we found a wonderful pro-life doctor who had a lot of success in helping couples. There is no guarantee of course, but we did have two more children after he became our doctor. Tina smiled, wrote down the information I provided about the doctor and the name of his clinic, and Karen confirmed what I had told Tina about this doctor.

I said that to say this: at the age of forty-four I don’t know that I have 2-3 of those friends whom I can go to when absolutely necessary. Those with whom I have a long history of shared experiences. It seems that during the past decade of child-rearing and employment on my part and on theirs, those relationships have withered on the vine. However, I am constantly encountering those smaller moments of serendipity and of grace each day that keep a smile on my heart and my balance intact. I’ve learned to appreciate them and be open to them for if I didn’t I would be all the poorer.

To all of you who I’ve been blessed to know I say: You are all in my heart. You made me who I am and are making me who I will be. And I hope I lift you up often as you lift me. I can be a heavy load to lift at times. All of you have been there to hold me up at various times in my life. Some of you have leaned on me now and again also. I thank you for the opportunity to do both. Thanks you to the rest for standing by. You never know when we’ll need each other my albis, but I’m damned glad to know you’re there.

To you whose names I never learned and whom perhaps I will never meet again: as I traveled through your lives, you gave a stranger your kindness, music, food, thoughts, prayers, and stories of sorrows and joys. I thank you for the grace-filled glimpses into your lives.

And to you whom have moved on, but whose essence remains in my heart, I echo what Nanci sings here, in one of my favorite songs of all time:

But lost to me are how the lives of friends go
Like autumn leaves in Oklahoma wind

In the song’s final lines, she sings: “I’ll come to miss a few.”

As I approach the late summer days of my life, I find that I do. I miss a few.

[Postscript: Having compiled all the snippets of quotes and stories together, I will be posting them in smaller portions over the course of the next week or so. They do no one any good buried in a closed document on my hard drive. They need to breathe.]

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