I've been thinking a lot lately about friendship. It may have something to do with the convergence of things that have happened this summer: my son and daughter's move to "the big city," the death of my father-in-law, time spent camping with my youngest daughter and her soon-to-leave-for-college life. Friendship is an elusive reality. We all want friends. We all need friends. But, I'm not sure I've found very many--you know, the kind of friend that loves you unconditionally. Of course, we find friends in expected places (family, work, school), but even then I've come to realize that my friends over the years have been few and far between.
Not counting my immediate family, I've had three or four friends. In high school, my best friend, Rick, was my constant companion. Wherever he went, I went and vice versa. We worked at the same place (Orange Julius at the Battlefield Mall), we enjoyed the same movies (Monty Python's "Quest" and Mel Brooks "Blazing Saddles" nearly made us pee in our pants for laughter), and went to the prom together (with appropriate dates, of course). Our 40 year high school reunion is coming up. I haven't attended a single one. But, if I were to attend this one, it would only be because Rick was going. And, I'm sure we'd pick up the conversation were we left it over 10 years ago.
I made a couple of friends in college--guys that I haven't kept up with but I know that if we were to talk, it would feel like time travel. Jimmy, "Bib", and Tim--even though the four of us didn't hang out together--these three guys made college feel like home. But, again, I've only seen them every once in a while, when they're drawn back to Bolivar for various reasons.
During seminary, I became acquainted with several guys, but only three--Gerald, Randy, and David--have become good friends. There was this immediate connection, this automatic fellowship, that made me feel like I've known them all my life. I've seen all three over the years for a variety of reasons, but I don't know them as well as I ought if they are truly "friends."
In different jobs, under different circumstances, I've found friends for the same reasons: a sense that somehow we share a deeper affection, a raison d'etre, that pulled us together for a time. Jeph, Ken, Ric, Martin--I knew as soon as I met these guys that we would be friends. I think about them every once in a while--wonder how they're doing, finding out tidbits via social media--but since I don't spend time with them, it doesn't feel like we have a lasting friendship.
So, when it all comes down to it, my best friends are only four: Sheri, Andrew, Emma, and Grace. I need them in my life. I crave spending time with them. I think about them all the time. I pray more for them than anyone else. I trust them completely. I can't imagine treating them like I have all of my other friends--only getting by with random updates and "hey, how are you doing" encounters. I drink up the times we are together--now more than ever--because the centrifugal force of life is sending two of them away, with one yet to part. The older I get the more I realize that time is the constant of friendship, and this irrepressible force we call "time" will leave me lonely for them.
I used to look forward to birthdays, the marking of time with presents. Now all I want for my birthday is time--time with my friends. And then I think of God. Time. Never ending. Always together. Never parting. And I weep for the end of loneliness we call friendship.