Monday, October 21, 2013

True Friends

In each of our lifetimes, we encounter a staggeringly huge number of people.  Many will have little or no impact on us.  Most we won’t even remember beyond the fraction of a second that we are in contact.  Some will become acquaintances, both good and bad.  At different points in our lives we will make friends.  Some will last a week, while others will last until a family move or a change in class or grade.  However, a rare few will stand the test of time and, no matter how many years or kilometres separate you, will always hold that title of true friend.  The minute you reconnect, whether after hours, days, months or years, whether in person, by phone, letter or something electronic, the friendship is as fresh and full of life as it was the last time.

In my opinion and my experience, true friends are people that are THERE for you, wherever that might be.  They stand by you when times are tough.  They accept your faults, even when those faults might hurt them at times.  They put you first, even if it isn’t convenient.  They look at you and see the good, the potential and the greatness.  They know when to talk, when to listen or an appropriate combination of the above.  Friends remember the good times, and help you walk past and away from the bad times.  Friends do little things that make huge impacts in your life.  Friends laugh, cry and joke.  Friends share in your life.  Friends can offer advice, because their intentions are selfless and focused on your growth, not on being right.  Friends have things in common with you.  Your priorities mesh in many areas.  Your interests may also align, or not, but they certainly don’t get in the way.

I am a fairly friendly guy, for an introvert.  I have many good acquaintances and friendly associates.  I don’t negate the value of the other people I am friends with, but there are less than a dozen people that I feel like I have truly connected with and consider true friends.  I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.  I’ll share the names, despite the risk of alienating people.

Some friends develop over time.  When I was in Grade 7 (an awkward time for any teenage boy), I found myself at a bit of a loss.  For a while, I didn’t have many friends.  I found myself spending more time with a couple of boys, certainly not the most popular kids, but good people.  They became my friends.  One moved away at the end of Grade 8.  The other became my best friend.  George weathered our uncomfortable years.  We weren’t necessarily similar.  He was big and awesomely practical.  I was a stick and a bit of a nerd.  But George gave me my first, real example of true friendship.  He stuck by me.  He quietly encouraged me.  He spent time with me.  He overlooked my faults.  He was entirely and completely reliable.  As we grew older, our friendship matured along with us.  We cared for each other and the welfare of each other was fairly central in our minds.  As he went into the trades (temporarily), I went to university, then to Europe on my church mission.  While not a big writer, George would send me the occasional letter.  He stepped in and became a better big brother to my little brothers than I had been.  When I came home, he was the person that I spent hours catching up with (after a dose of family).  When I met my wife for the first time, George was right there beside me.  He rode shotgun when we drove Gillian home to her sister’s.  He was my best man at my wedding.  He stepped easily into the role of Uncle George to my kids.  He was helping me move furniture when Gillian’s water broke with #2.  He drove 14 hours, in a marathon 16 hour round trip to Edmonton (starting at 2:30 am) to see the Edmonton Alberta Temple with me.  He attended the significant events of most of my children’s early childhood.  I went to his RCMP grad.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve spent less time together, exchanging the occasional phone call or email.  But I still consider him my best friend.  When we got together for our 15 year high school reunion, we were still in synch enough (or he was), to automatically ride shotgun so that I could give some female classmates a ride home.  No need to ask.  True friend.

While on my church mission in Switzerland and France, I met many great people.  But one family became true and lasting friends.  The Becquereau’s had 7 kids, all serious growing concerns. I still don’t know how they kept it together with all those boys, bookended by the 2 girls.  But Sylvie always had time to talk, listen and encourage a young, insecure missionary far from home.  About 17 or 18 years after our last meeting in France, we got together in Quebec.  Despite my poor, rusty French, we instantly slipped into that comfortable familiarity we’d had when out for family walks on quiet and hot Sundays in rural France.  Better yet, that comfortable familiarity included my wife, even though she’d never met them before.  True friend.

While I was in my undergrad, I got a job working in the horticulture program at the university.  There I met another true friend.  Jackie B was my supervisor, then my mentor and always my friend.  Jackie always encouraged, kept things silly and light and enriched our days with great conversation.  She always sacrificed time and effort to make what we did successful.  When she was ill, and I had her job, she still stepped in a supported me so I didn’t make a fool of myself or screw things up too bad.  We commiserated about our common challenge (who had a name) through work and grad school.  To this day, I still feel like I can call and she’ll step up.  We still commiserate about challenges.  I am still concerned for her wellbeing and happiness.  True friend.

Grad school is a weird and stressful time for anyone, I think.  Much of the time, you spend it trying to make sense of things that you figured would make more sense when you planned them.  Luckily, there are always people around you that will step in to help.  Enter Parthiba, the smartest, most precise, most patient and soft-spoken person I’ve ever met.  Parthiba helped me to make sense of statistics (mostly making sense of the data, not stats) and stepped into my life like one of the brothers I already had (but often liked less than him).  He became a son to my parents (he still refers to them as Mom and Dad).  Over the years, with great distances and times between us, it is still a real pleasure to talk to him and spend time with him.  True friend.

I have another friend named Wayne.  Our friendship comes from common interests and a willingness to step up and in whenever it is needed.  Wayne can be relied upon to come at a moment’s notice to help fix something, build something or generally take a work project to a stupidly intense level.  I feel the same way.  We have common priorities in a number of areas of our lives.  I trust him and value his insights.  As a result, I will spend hours on a roof, on a ladder, or holding dry wall, if he asks it.  True friend.

I’d better pause and mention my true and eternal friend and companion, Gillian.  I’ve spoken of her before in other posts.  When I came home from my mission, I wanted to find a wife.  I met Gillian; we’ll call it by chance.  I invited her to come to a singles activity at my parents’ house.  She was cute and didn’t say much.  But, I’ve come to understand, she was taking it all in.  I drove her back to her sister’s house, with George along for the ride, and memorized her sister’s phone number in one hearing.  I then called her from the river the next day and she came and spent the afternoon with me and some friends.  She was fun.  We spent the evening together, me talking and her listening.  We had things in common.  I was smitten.  We wrote.  We fell in love.  What has cemented our true friendship is our mutual concern for each other.  From the day at the river, she became my Champion.  Whether it was making my dad back down, or having a mean-on for my sometimes less-than-sensitive-or-kind brother, she was there on my side, my team.  And I feel the same way about her (FYI, I learned that fierce protectiveness from my dad).  Gillian has stuck with me, despite my many, many failings.  There is no one that I’d rather spend time with.  Cuddles or hand holding?  Still the best thing ever.  True Friend.

I want to mention another friend, despite the risk of offending those that I might leave out, who might fall in the same category.  My little brother Andrew has become a good friend, despite the 7 year age gap.  When I was a teenager, he was an annoying little rug rat.  He was loud, full of pee and vinegar and never stopped.  But, as he’s grown, I’ve come to see him as an example to me in the areas of dedicated service, solid effort, and commitment to principles.  I find that we have more in common than I had expected historically.  He is easy to be around (still loud) and is a good friend.  FYI, the other brothers (and sister) have become closer over the years as we’ve aged.

As a couple, Gillian and I prefer to spend our time together.  Having couple friends can be a bit of a challenge, since sometimes you jive with one of the pair, but not both.  You don’t always mesh with the spouse of your spouse’s best friend but our dear friends Mike and Leela are exactly like that.  As we’ve gotten to know them over the years (or rather, as I have), we’ve come to enjoy spending the time that we can together.  Getting together is challenging (time wise), but not a struggle when we can do it.  True friends.

A number of years ago, I met this guy (John) at a youth dance that we were both chaperoning.  We’d met earlier than that but hadn’t spent any time together.  As we talked, we discovered we had a lot in common.  We had intermittent contact over the next few years.  One day, we decided that we needed to get together as 2 families and made the arrangements.  The families hit it off.  We found that Gillian and Dorothy hit it off also, and so did I.  Since then, we’ve made more and more effort to get together.  We spend at least a few days/evenings together a month, despite the 1 hour distance between us.  We call and talk.  We visit.  John doesn’t talk much.  I do.  But it works.  Getting together lightens my heart.  Each of them are examples to me of good parenting, good and faithful service and, true friendship.

I have found that it doesn’t take a lifetime to make a lifelong friend.  In my fortunate experience, I have met people that felt like I had known for literally years and felt that immediate connection.  This summer (and the months leading up to it), I met a few people that I feel like I had known forever.  Frank and Robyn, James & Kate, and Garrett were also leaders at the church youth camp that Gillian and I and 3 kids attended.  We hit it off immediately.  They exhibited loving concern for us.  Garrett stepped in and made a difficult situation bearable.  Each supported us unselfishly.  They had a positive and lasting impact on my life.  I admire them and look up to them.  You know that people are true friends when a hug isn’t awkward, but a necessary part of your interaction (that is my way of thinking, anyways).  True friends.

I have mentioned a number of people here by name, not to embarrass them (assuming that one or 2 will read this), but to acknowledge the impact that each of these exceptional individuals has had on my life.  There are other good people that I didn’t mention.  I have parents, other siblings and other friends.  But it is impossible for me to mention them all individually.  Just know that I have been surrounded with good people and I value that.

You can easily see that I have been greatly blessed.  From each of these interactions and relationships, I have learned valuable characteristics that I try to emulate and put into my life.  I try and act as they act, because I want to have a positive impact on others, like they have on me.  I hope that you can see some characteristics that are worth picking up and putting into place.  I expect that you’ll see a series of faces run past your mind’s eye also.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lucky (times a gagillion)

I’ve never considered myself to be a really lucky guy, at least in classic terms.  I have been fortunate to have things come into alignment for me on a number of occasions and I have been blessed, but I rarely “win the lottery” in the luckiness department.  At least, I didn’t think so (or remember so), until tonight.

Perspective check: I have 4 kids.  Two boys and two girls.  The boys are 16 and 12.  The girls are 14 and 10.  One girl is pushing pure hormones through her veins at all times.  The other is a sulky mess, most of the time.  The other dads out there are hopefully feeling my pain?

Tonight was the typical crazy busy Thursday evening that we experience every week.  Between all four kids, we had someone that needed to be somewhere or be picked up from something approximately every 20 minutes from 3:40 pm until 9pm.  We had most of us at the supper table for at best a 10 minute overlap at any one time.  While my wife and I traded taking turns going out to collect or deliver this kid or that to each subsequent, we worked on the dishes with Thing #4 and made a couple of batches of cookies.

I was working on cookie batch #2 (chocolate chip skor bit, in case you were wondering), while my wife helped Thing #4 take her shower (under duress – nothing new there).  Through the walls, I heard a question that I have heard a number of times these days from Thing #4.  What did you want to be when you grew up?  I personally have dodged answering this question, as I never really have a good answer and frankly never gave it a great deal of thought.  But my wife has thought of everything (probably twice).  I heard her respond calmly and quietly, “Well, I wanted to be a teacher, an opera singer, a writer, and actress” among other things.  I can’t recall her saying all of those before.  But rather than denigrate herself and her role as a stay at home mom (which can be typical) and say, “but I didn’t do any of those things”, she blew my mind with the next sentence.  She said “I got to be every one of those things.  I teach kids every day, I sing all the time, I write.  I am sure that she continued at this point, but I didn’t hear any more.  I was overwhelmed by a tremendous feeling of gratitude and that feeling of “winning the lottery”. 

I remembered a similar feeling that came to me about 18 or so years ago.  As a single man, I had been prayerfully requesting major divine intervention to find the woman that would make me happy, that would fill in my many shortcomings and balance me out.  Shortly after that, I met Gillian.  We clicked on the normal levels, I suppose and things moved ahead.  However, I remember that a couple of months after I met Gillian I looked back and could see that God had given me more that I’d ever imagined I needed (or deserved).  I’d “won the lottery”.

You’ll forgive my weak or deficient gambling-related metaphors.  I’m not a gambler.  But my wife is like an eternal jackpot.  She just keeps coming in a winner.  I’m the first to admit that I am not the best dad.  I am not home as much as I should be, and am often mentally absent when I am physically there.  I am clueless when it comes to most of what my kids are doing (although I try and compensate by overreacting when I do figure stuff out), although sometimes I will admit I try and stay clueless (see above comments about 14 year old daughters).  I can’t help with any of the homework (I blame the kids – they don’t take any subjects that I know anything about currently) and I would rather pluck myself bald all over than try and sort out why this girl did this to that girl or figure out any type of math equation.

But the beautiful thing is, I don’t have to.  Everywhere I am weak, my wife isn’t.  Together, we get the job done (although I am dead weight sometimes).

My wife could have been anything professionally.  As my dear mother would say “she is smarter than the average bear” (that is a Yogi Bear reference, I think) and can really do pretty much everything (except talk to strangers or idiots on the phone).  But she puts everything she has into our home.  Could we use a few more bucks?  Sure.  But could our kids be the great, unique and talented people that they are if they didn’t have their mom standing nearby and available to help out, lead out, guide, cajole, lift up, smack down or love them, no matter what?  Nope.  I don’t think so. 

Am I lucky?  You bet.  Glad I remembered that tonight.

Thanks for listening.  I just had to share.