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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Mining the Word "Friend"

Photo: Bruno De Regge
Yesterday, I told you I was motivated by a novel called The Cyberspace Letters by Allen Palmeri to mine certain words for gold. After saying that, the word "friend" began to beg for attention. I thought back to a post I wrote in 2006, which I've re-written and expanded upon here.

On a golf outing with three friends in 2000, I found myself on the fringe of the green on the sixth hole. Missing greens is a fairly common occurrence for me. I'm not a good golfer. Typically I use a five iron to chip onto the green from the fringe because the blade is relatively flat while having just enough lift to pick the ball out of the grass and send it rolling somewhere in the vicinity of the hole. My friends were already on the green as I reached for my five iron that was tucked away in my bag. Then I saw it. My dad's one iron.

This was the first time I had been on a course since my dad died earlier that year. I inherited his clubs and I placed a couple of them in my bag. We spent so many hours on golf courses together, how could I not take a piece of him with me after he died? But I wasn't prepared for what came next.

My knees went weak when I saw his one iron in my bag. The reality that he was gone hit me full force and I was overcome with emotion. I did what guys do. I fought back the tears, but I lost the battle. I turned away as best I could, but one of my friends caught me, and he came over and put his arm on my shoulder. I pointed to my dad’s club and whispered “It was my dad’s.” But I didn't need to tell  him that. He knew. He lost his own father several years prior, so he knew how quickly the simplest memory can sneak up and overwhelm a person.

As sad as it made me, having a friend who knew what was happening and who cared enough to show that he knew, eased the pain. During one 30-second span of time I experienced the gut-wrenching pain that comes with loss followed by the euphoric high that comes from knowing a friend knew me well enough to understand my pain. It was one of the truest expressions of friendship I've ever experienced.

A friend is intuitive like that. He knows your fears, your failures, your struggles and your dreams. He's heard you say stupid things and he let you say them. He's seen you do stupid things and he didn't abandon you. He laughs with you. He gives you the business. He texts random movie or song quotes knowing you'll get them. He gives you a place of safety to be yourself without fear of being judged. He isn't quick to correct you, but he's not afraid to challenge you when the time is right. But most of all, he remembers your history and that drives him to put his arm around you on the sixth hole of a golf course when you are on the verge of a breakdown.

In the age of Facebook, where it's not uncommon to have thousands of "friends," the word seems to have been cheapened. But I'm not so sure it has. I learn so many little nuances about my real life friends there -- nuances that I store away and hope to use with them in conversation. But the truth is, I don't think the average person has room in his life for more than a handful of close friends. In fact, Jesus himself seemed to prefer spending time with just three guys -- Peter, James and John. I think that's a good model.


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