Friday, September 11, 2015

letter to an old best friend (on the occasion of his 50th birthday): some biographical memories and reflections on friendship

August 20, 2015

Dear Jon,

Congratulations on reaching the big 5-0! I hope you have a great celebration with family and friends! (You may remember that I beat you to 50 by a few months. For me, it’s so far, so good!)

Ben was thoughtful enough to ask your old and current friends for some memories—and he had a good enough memory to add an old-timer like me to the list. Hopefully, you and yours will enjoy my little contribution...

Although the bulk of my memories of you go back to our days in Malone, there are a handful of others:
-I remember our little family visiting your family in Indy, including time with young Ben & Nathaniel and y’all wrestling with Jen’s cancer. Most of all, I remember Jen and Tonia taking Zach to visit your pediatrician for his “asthma-like condition”. This preceded a tough drive home to Jeffersonville—watching him labor to breathe as we hit heavy traffic south of Indy on I-265 (nothing new under the sun, huh?) and then drove through rural Indiana—two of the scariest hours of my life.

-I remember visiting you and Jen at Duke on my way back to Texas A&M in January 1987. The visit was fine—aside from you two absolutely kicking my arse in Clue. After heading south, I had to return to your apartment, with my stay extended by my clutch’s failure outside of Gibsonville—where a man named Leroy (yes, I still have the receipt; see: enclosed) did lengthy and expensive repairs. After a great Christmas break in No. VA, I was not at all excited about returning for my second semester of grad school, even a week late. But after Leroy and then a freak/providential snowstorm in Birmingham forcing me off the interstate and into an inner-city hotel, I was thrilled to get back to Aggieland.

-We exchanged quite a few letters back in the day, I’m sure. But I can only find one in my files from June 1981 (enclosed). During that time period, I remember your wrestling with leukemia. One weird, little memory: visiting you in the hospital, I twisted a balloon and popped it near you, causing you considerable pain/angst. And I have a distinct memory of crying when I first learned the news about the leukemia. (That’s the second time I remember crying; the first is when my cat Kiki died in Malone.) Remembering it today, tears return to my eyes, reliving some combination of that pain and the joy of your return to full health. I thank God that you’ve reached 50 years!

As for Malone, a whole slew of memories (aside from Simeb)…
-playing baseball and some of its derivatives, esp. with Leo and Chris Benware: in “the field” next to our house; “off the roof” (or whatever creative name we gave it); and reaching over the fence (of the Benware’s porch) to make a home-run-saving catch

-street hockey with Chris Kimberly (?); biking up the “big hill” to your house; were you my partner in crime when I propelled a beechnut with a tennis racket into the side of a car—and then ate Rocky Road ice cream awaiting my semi-probable doom?

-Superstar Baseball (I still have it and all of our box scores!), “League” (I kept a few sheets of this), and the “spinner” baseball game you liked (what was that called?); remember the trips to/from Plattsburgh in the back of the (wood-paneled?) station wagon?

-your parents’ hospitality; your little sis Tina was pretty cool; and holding you down so my sister could kiss you

-Captain and Tennille, right? Shaun Cassidy? BTO? Were there others? Egad! (Oh, you didn’t want people to know about that part of your life? Well, send the hush money sooner next time!)

I guess we met through your Dad’s church; I don’t remember for sure. We’ve traveled different paths since then—and we haven’t seen each other in years. All I know is that you were a dear and crucial friend for me in those Malone years. I was a freak (two years ahead of everybody else in the 7th grade), a newcomer in an insular little town, and a few months from some friendly encounters with Scott Regis.

In his second (excellent) book, Spiritual Friendship, Wesley Hill observes that "Friendship is the freest, the least constrained, the least fixed and determined, of all loves...friendship is entirely voluntary, uncoerced, and unencumbered by any sense of duty or debt." He then quotes C.S. Lewis who said that friendship is "the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary" of the loves.

Friendship may be the least necessary, but it is still of inestimable value. I ended up with a handful of buddies in Malone, but you were my one “friend”. I’ve often told people that “all you need in life” is a few good friends—or even one. And as I share that thought, I always think back to you and our friendship in Malone—when I needed it the most.


I am eternally grateful for your willingness to extend the free hand of friendship to me. May you and yours increasingly experience and exhibit God’s grace…AFA, eric

2 Comments:

At September 15, 2015 at 3:39 AM , Blogger blogspot abal said...

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At September 15, 2015 at 3:39 AM , Blogger blogspot abal said...

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