“Surround yourself with people better than you are.” My brother-in-law, the wisest man I know, told me that 50 years ago. I have always taken his advice. When I opened my own business, I asked him what factors made for a successful enterprise. He replied: “Operate at a profit”.
Truths are always easy to apprehend because they are not convoluted. They hang right there in front of your nose, waiting for you to glom onto them.
When I look at my friends, my real true friends that I have known for zillions of years and have developed unbreakable bonds with, I see the essence of what creates a friendship in the first place. Whether you realize it or not, what takes that thread (that initially links you to another person) and recasts it as iron, is the very simple notion that the friend-to-be has a trait, a very important trait, that they are willing to share with you – but are totally oblivious of what it is.
When I look at all six of my friends, I see that each in their own way has been teaching me about perseverance. If you are a Catholic, you know this is one of the gifts of The Holy Spirit. While I am not in any way attempting to diminish the gifts that God lavishes upon me unceasingly, what I admire here is how each one of my friends -- in their own very simple way, has shown me how their own perseverance has helped them move through the tough times in their lives.
Sometimes it is just how they have lived that has given me the resolve to weather the obstacles I have had to endure. We all confront trauma in one form or another as we age, and the way we handle these events is a mark of courage and determination. I have grown stronger in my own life by observing theirs. It is not a debt easily repaid.
I watched one of them go from a very highly paid data management position to a homeless man living in shelters while constantly looking for work. Sure, I helped him out in whatever way I could, but it was his fierce determination that got him from walking the streets during the day, looking for a place to plug in his laptop to search for work that got him out of the shelter and back on the payroll.
One of my friends suffered a traumatic spinal fracture right after high school graduation that left him with a fused neck. Unable to turn his head, he had to turn his entire torso to talk to you. The pain left him unable to sleep in a bed, so he has been sleeping on the floor for the past 50+ years. I never heard him complain about it. He adapted, he persevered, and he thrived.
He became known as one of the most well-known principals at schools for troubled children. The stress was enormous, but aside from sharing an occasional story with me, it had little to no effect on his demeanor. He is a well-respected musician in the area of the country where he lives, and has raised two sons, one of which is one of the top songwriters in Nashville. When you thought it was smooth sailing for him, his beautiful wife had a devastating stroke that almost cost him his home and savings. Through a network of family and friends, they care for her around the clock. I can’t say he wasn’t fazed by this terrible turn of events, but I can say he is one of the strongest individuals I have ever known, and the love and devotion he has for his wife and family have been undiminished by hardships.
Another guy spent his adult life working for the government during a time when unfathomable evil percolated in his department in Washington. At one point the upper management decided one department head had to go; but go in a very big way. My friend was offered a contract to kill this government employee, one he naturally refused. He stood face to face with evil and prevailed. The poison pill in the deal was that everyone in the upper echelon would have denied the conversation ever took place, leaving him hanging in the wind, perceived as a vindictive idiot.
How can you not look upon these ordinary guys without a modicum of respect and admiration for lives well lived?
Another friend I have shared everyday events with since high school: lunches, concerts, girlfriends. I’m sitting outside on the roof of a hotel in Munich, West Germany during a semester abroad when who would come strolling down the block in the most casual manner to see me? He turned me on to some of my favorite music, groups that have seen me through some of the more spectacular times in my life.
These are simple but very important things to me. Watching him grind out a living and a life without breaking a sweat, moving from one challenge to the next with nary a complaint, imbued in me a desire to mirror the enormous strength of character he possesses.
The last person I want to mention I have known a scant 10 years. We worked together in a semi-hostile environment, and I believe it was the dry, caustic sense of humor we shared, that kept us both alive and well during those years. He is a quiet fellow, but fiercely determined to live life his way, without imposing any constraints on the people around him. I know in a fight he would have my back – and fight to the death for me as I would for him. He actually interviewed me for the job where we met and became tight friends.
Is six a small number? I have had other friendships that appeared to be headed towards similar glory, but they ended, usually for silly reasons, causing you to look back carefully and render unfortunate judgement on the nature of the bond in the first place. I have no ill will towards these people. They are welcome in my home anytime, but they do not have the depth of character my six best buds have, and I will be forever grateful to God for introducing them to me.