Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pleased To Make Your Friendship

The phone rang at 9:00pm on Friday night. One of my oldest friends, calling to ask whether I can meet him on the South Side of Chicago at 8am Saturday to help load boxes for Haiti relief.

Of course, I said, where do you need me?

My wife marveled at the fact that I responded immediately, and happily corralled the kids into the van for a rainy trek south.

My friends and I, it's how we roll.

I learned long ago that the most valuable treasure we have is friendship.

I have a many, many acquaintances, but a handful of dear friends. In fact, I joined Facebook a few months ago and never realized just how popular I am, with a daily dose of new "friends."

They are acquaintances, of course, not friends.

But nothing to scoff at. Acquaintances serve a purpose. They are there for us at various points in our lives, we visit, spend time together, but they don't see me the way my friends do.

I was touched hearing Sportswriter Frank Deford tell a story recently about Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. Deford and Russell spent a good deal of time together through the years as Deford covered both Russell and the Celtics. One afternoon they were riding together on a highway when Deford said (I'm paraphrasing), "You know Bill, I really appreciate your friendship through the years."

"We are acquaintances, not friends" Russell said. "Friendship requires a tremendous amount of work, and I just don't have the time to invest in another friendship. I do value your acquaintance, however."

He's right, of course. Most of us go through life without bothering to make the distinction, and their acquaintance seems to bring both satisfaction.

But they aren't friends.

My sixth grade daughter expressed concern recently about her number of friends. It's about quality, my dear, not quantity.

I have a handful of friends. Most go back over 30 years. They are my brothers and I would do anything for them.

They see every side of me, especially the raw, vulnerable side I try so hard to keep from everyone else. Lord I am not perfect, but they see me for who I am, and I see them for who they are.

We've been through a lot together. Marriage, divorce, kids, vices, job advances, jobs lost. We are older now, heavier and a bit grayer. But we still laugh like kids when we're together.

My children think it's funny that I have known them for so long. I hope they have the gift of true, loving friends throughout their lives.

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