Friends are meant to be cherished
“Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.”
Recently I returned to Tahoe from a visit with friends in Michigan, one of whom, a few years ago, gave me a card with the above words of wisdom on it.
For some reason, this visit made me unusually aware of what precious gifts friends are. I also came away with deep feelings of being humbled and honored to be counted among their friends.
Their little corners of the world are filled with the glow of unfeigned, generous love. One couple, in their 60s, are raising three grandchildren, ages 1 1/2 to 7, lovingly and uncomplainingly. Both are retired educators: he a principal, she a special education teacher. Now she is studying for her master’s in social work credential so she will have some specific skills to offer as a volunteer. He is president of an organization that is renovating run-down housing and making it available to low-income families.
I saw the work they have done, and are doing, and it is awesome. He also is in charge of food service at a local hospice. and now as he enters his 70th year he says the work he’s doing at the hospice makes him feel he’s doing something worthwhile. (I suppose all the years he worked as cook and food administrator in nursing homes don’t count.)
Another couple is the center of a global community. Their home is open and has welcomed friends they have made from Burundi to Austria. At Christmas the annual party for foreign students studying at the local university was held at their house, even though the wife was recovering from recent major surgery.
The husband stayed home to help. He gave over his bell-ringing — a service his organization, the Exchange Club, provides for the Salvation Army — to one of their sons who offered to take his place. The husband spent the next couple of days delivering turkeys and hams, which the Exchange Club sells to raise money for a local charity.
Humans and animals are the recipients of the kindness and thoughtfulness of a third couple I visited. I’ve lost track of the number of people, citizens and refugees, they have helped to get on their feet with jobs and housing. The latest little critter to benefit from their concern is a blind feral kitten that the wife finally coaxed into the house. He is now happily ensconced sleeping nose-to-nose with their big yellow Lab in a warm, safe home.
And with all these people I get to be their friend. How did I get so lucky?
These are friends of about 20 years. How about the 60-plus years of friendship with childhood friends? When we pick up the phone, even after months or years, we just continue the conversation where we left off.
You can only do that with old friends.
Happily, one of those friends just visited me for the first time out here in the spring and another, who just lost her husband, is joining me in a few days at my time-share in Hawaii. So phone conversations become face-to-face and we can see each other laugh or cry, frown or smile. And e-mail “talks” become real talks when my friend from New York visits.
And how about my newer friends here? Who gives me a ride when my car is in the garage? A friend. Who drops me off and picks me up at the bus station at the “Y” when I go on a trip? A (93-year-old) friend. Who stays with my dogs and keeps an eye on my house for a couple of days? A friend. Who gives me a homeopathic remedy — that really works — when I’m hurting? A friend. Who invites me to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners? Friends.
Circumstances of my life have made friends of vital importance in my life; from my childhood when a friend’s mother paid me a quarter to wash up her kitchen floor so I could go to a movie with her daughter to the friend who flew out here from Michigan to help when my husband died.
There are others: a nun who changed my life; a priest whom I still count among my dearest friends although we communicate rarely; a dear lady in Puerto Rico who came to my aid when I really needed help; and many more too numerous to list.
I am not denigrating the role of family, especially the strength derived from a deep-knit family bond. But how wonderful when family members aren’t just family, but friends as well. When mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers are each other’s friends.
We mustn’t, of course, forget our four-footed friends who love us just the way we are, even if we’ve been gone all day or are a little late feeding them. The joy and comfort they give us more than repay the occasional chewed shoe or little “accident”.
With this newfound awareness of the treasure of friendship, I am consciously trying to let my friends know how highly I regard them and how honored I am to be their friend. When I wrote to one of the couples I wrote about here to express my admiration, they were so touched they called me to say no one had ever said such nice things about them.
So perhaps we can all touch our friends, telling them what is in our hearts but what we don’t always put into words. I hope I never lose this sense of gratitude I now feel for the wonderful friends who have seen me through life.
— Pat Banner is a copy editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Off-Beat is a column written by Tribune employees whenever they feel like it.
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