I reckon I’ve never been a real gregarious sort of fellow. I’ve tried to be friendly but I’m not one of those “never met a stranger” people. I’ve met quite a few strangers in my life and some of them were stranger than others. Given enough prep time, I can pretty much hold my own with most people when it comes to strange and I can usually keep up my end of a conversation. And, everywhere I’ve lived so far, I’ve been able to make a few acquaintances. If I keep at it a while, I can usually find someone whose standards are low enough to be my friend.
It’s never been too hard to find someone who’ll share a laugh, gripe about the same things or like some of the same music I like. With a bit of luck, or providence, and a good dose of persistence, I’m usually able to fashion acquaintance with someone who shares similar values, believes in the same big things and generally likes how I go about doing things. Over my span of sixty years, I’ve even had two or three of those “friends closer than a brother.” The warrior poet of long ago, King David, had but one so far as I can tell, so that really moves me up on the fortunate scale.
But what really takes me to the top are those very few friends that I’ve had who genuinely have helped me be a better person. They are the ones who might let me complain a little bit but who are not going to let a lot of time ride by before they lay a little bit of loving truth on me. I got a little dose of that just this week from a mighty fine fellow over in Arkansas.
He’d made the mistake of asking me how things were going and I made the mistake of sharing a small bit of disappointment I’d had in my professional life. Turns out, it was about the best mistake I could have made.
The response I got from him was just downright Solomonesque. With impressive gentleness and wisdom, he pointed out the incredibly blessed nature of my life and circumstances and that a dramatic proportion of the world’s population would gladly change places with me. And he said it all in such a way that I could barely feel guilty even though I definitely felt convicted. It might be an exaggeration to say his words changed my life but they definitely improved my attitude.
That guy who wrote “faithful are the wounds of a friend” and “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another one,” he sure knew what he was talking about. In this world of cheap sympathy, pseudo-empathy and mass commiseration, it is nice from time to time to have a shoulder to cry on. But what I really need, and what has helped me most through the years, are those few friends who give me a Kleenex and then slap me so gently I want to hug them.