The Breeze of Friendship

Waiting patiently, he scans the never-ending surge of lunch patrons through the door. Traffic was kind to him and he felt fortunate to have arrived early and secured the table. As servers rush by, the breeze is flavored with the aroma of baked bread and the foods your grandmother prepared for Sunday lunch. Comfort food.

Photo by Abdullah Öğük on Unsplash

Then, he spots his friend. A quick acknowledgment from the friend as he waves off the hostess and makes his way to the table — an island for conversation for the next hour.

For a little while, two people with a special bond share their lives. Occasionally there is a theme for the day. But often the talk is a meandering path of intimacy and discovery, history and future. That’s the magic of friendship. A solid presence peppered by the breeze of surprise and newness.

Technology and the demands of today’s lifestyle have changed the way we practice friendship. Social media and the belief that forceful opinion is the stuff that glues us together is watering down our significant relationships with others. Crowded calendars push friends out. Instead of a delightful and welcoming breeze, our personal conversation often takes shape as a suffocating blanket or a furnace blast of rhetoric. Or, merely a platform for rapid-fire delivery of information.

Friendships wilt without the pleasant breeze. Although, true friendship, because of previous breezes shared, can weather almost anything.

Thoughts on Birthdays

It’s not one of those birthdays, after all. Just a run-of-the-mill birthday with no special meaning. Except for the whole grateful-to-be-alive sentiment, of course.

 

Many years ago, I would get up early on my birthday and slip down to the Towne Crier Restaurant. Following a traditional meal of an omelet, country sausage, and hash brown potatoes, I would sit with my pen and paper journal and write out aspirations. It was a subversive moment. None of the food listed was considered healthy at the time. Thus, I celebrated a moment of carefree abandon and a feeling of invincibility. Eggs are back on the healthy list now. And the occasional sausage is not the worst thing. I think I miss hash browns the most.

This morning, I had the same breakfast I’ve had every day for the past year or so. Black coffee — nice and strong. And a protein bar. I woke up hungry for that combination this morning. And now that I think about it, I should have pulled down the red, “You Are Special Today” coffee cup. But I didn’t.

 

There were a good many years when I would anticipate my birthday gifts. I may, indeed, receive some this year. But if I don’t, I will feel no distress. I have so much already.

I will hear from many of my friends today. A phone call or two. Birthday cards in the mailbox and, through the wonders of the internet, greetings from around the world.

Nancy’s and Togo’s cards are already in hand and the smile on my face is genuine, though perhaps a little goofy. I can’t put into words how thankful I am for family — especially Nancy, my partner in 43 years of marriage and life. Jeremy, Justin, and Bella have special places in my heart. My little family. And those family members who brought us to this time, some still with us, some passed on. And the past 5 years with Togo has provided enough material to keep my FaceBook friends happy. Blessed.

One of the beautiful things about a late December birthday is the gatherings of family and friends during this holiday season. Even though the exact times of reunion may not have coincided with my birthday, the fresh memories of car trips and gift-giving and special meals shared still warm me.

Over 50 years ago, I remember a birthday celebrated at my grandparents in San Angelo, Texas. I remember Mom waking me to tell me that Jesus had given me a present — snow! The fact that snow is a relative rarity in that part of the world and that there was an abundance of it was part of the miracle. And, of course, knowing that Jesus made it happen just for me.

It’s foggy and cold outside today. And the weather forecast promises even colder weather tonight and for the next couple of days. I am grateful for a warm home and feel a few tears as I think of those who don’t enjoy the comforts that I have. And honestly, some of those tears come from knowing that many people who have blessings similar to mine truly believe that the homeless and poor are without because of laziness.

One of my greatest blessings is to have had true relationships with people who have suffered untold hardships. Loss of family members, separation from loved ones, addiction, poverty, genocide, homelessness, underemployment, depression, and life-altering illness. Pretty much includes everyone I know. I’m wincing a bit as I look at the words just written. “Untold” hardships. I have been especially moved and changed by the told hardships. And blessed when an “untold” story is made known because a true relationship allows that.

At my age, I would generally be forgiven if I talked about politics, regardless of my views. But I won’t go in depth here. Hear the truth, though: “Some of you are right in your politics and some of you are wrong.” I’ll just leave it at that. Deep down, you know who you are.

I’m also amazed at the mirror effect I observe each day. The young man I see in that mirror has much more hair on top of his head, is slimmer, and has fewer wrinkles than the aged image that shows up in pictures and videos. Those captured images are more reminiscent of those who have gone on before. And I’m coming to appreciate those memories. It is nice of that young man to keep showing up in my mirror, however.

I think more about things that will help me live longer. Although, based on the ads that the internet has chosen for me, the days ahead will be filled with pain, incontinence, and perhaps moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis. And if I take the medication offered, it could result in depression, thoughts of suicide, diarrhea, or death. Perhaps more thinking about life and less about living longer is in order.

Not too many years ago, when someone reached 64 there were automatic thoughts of retirement. Then the government moved the age for full Social Security benefits back to 66. Retirement even at that young age seems doubtful, these days.

And then the question looms, “What would I do if I retired?”

I know people who have answers to that question. I admire them. But I have nothing. Oh, I’d like to write more. Maybe that’s a thing.

That’s all I have. Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of my meandering thoughts on birthdays. Whoever you are, friends of old or newly made acquaintances, thanks for making this a wonderful day. Not just for me, but for everyone who crosses your path. If you see me with a smile on my face, it’s because of you.

 

 

Comparative Gratefulness: Learning the Art of Celebration

I’m sitting comfortably in my study with a hot cup of coffee. Today is Thanksgiving and I am thinking about my life and inwardly calculating my degree of gratefulness.

I’ve noticed that, too often, my tendency toward self-pity causes me to look sideways rather than heavenward when I’m voicing my prayers. The inner script goes something like this:

God, I’m having a really hard time. But, at least, I can be thankful that I’m not as bad off as [insert someone’s name here].

 

In many ways, that’s a better prayer than the one that actually forms when I glance over at others. As I hear them voice their woes with their own lives, I sometimes find myself chuckling at the trivial nature of their life challenges.

“At least, you don’t have the burdens I have!” I want to scream.

But they do have burdens and they impact them in the same way as mine do me even though they are different. Their problems cause worry and anxiety. And challenges plant a seed of envy as these folks look around and see others who seem burdenless because the cargo they carry is different.

True thanksgiving in moments like this can happen. Moving from a perspective of self-centeredness to one of gratefulness takes a small step.

Pray for others.

Pray to increase the good in their lives. Pray for their safety. Pray for their happiness. Pray that their loads be lifted.

Pray for your family, your friends, your enemies.

When we change the flow of our prayers, we alter the very nature of our relationship with God. When we pray with a view that others are more like us than different, when we pray with the understanding that every individual is valuable, when we pray with true gratefulness . . . we must also pray knowing that “Thy will be done” can only be offered honestly when “my will” merges with His. And we can, at last, experience true gratefulness.

And from those prayers flows true joy.

 

The Bottom of the Inbox

I’m staring at an empty inbox.

That hasn’t happened for months. But this past weekend, I methodically and, somewhat painfully, worked through every item in my email inbox. And there, at the bottom, I found something wonderful.

Freedom. Release from the nagging pile of questions and duty.

I emptied my inbox on Sunday. I painstakingly worked my way through each and every message. I answered some, delegated a few, and organized information from the rest in a way that moves my work and my life along. What a wonderful feeling to see the bottom of my inbox.

When I awoke on Monday, I found my mind drawn to a new view.

I have other life inboxes that are filled to the brim with unanswered questions, unfulfilled relationships, and unmet visions. And, for a moment, I felt discouraged because I longed to see each and every one of those inboxes empty.

Later in the day, I received a message from a former student. He told me of the things that he was doing and of the items that were in his inbox these days. That’s when I realized that the bottom of my other inboxes will probably not be reached by me alone, but by others I’ve been blessed to come to know along the way.

And that is a good thing.

Talk About What Matters

A lot of disgusting talk swirls around us. It’s always been here because people have placed a high value on status. We don’t have to be the very best at anything — just prove ourselves better than others.

Yet, many of those who are the best are those who spend no energy on aggrandizing themselves. In fact, in their quest for excellence in their chosen pursuit, they help others along the way.

I hear — and personally feel — much despair over the tone of our public conversations. We have focused on the rancor in politics, but the same bile is spewing in all levels of our existence. Many have longed for a societal solution to this poisonous behavior.

Here’s one that isn’t original with me, but one that will change the world even if it doesn’t stop the inane mutterings of our elected officials.

Talk about individuals. Tell stories of tragedy and losses balanced with victory and gains. Don’t concentrate on the negativity surrounding an event, but on the stories of that woman, child, or man who stepped forward to do something good.

Those are the stories that matter. The news about the awful things will be framed in the telling of what is good. And that will be talk that matters.