Today is the birthday of one very good friend.
I met Bill in college a long time ago and we remain friends to this day – separated by an hour drive east or west (depending upon who wants to spend the gas money). Regrettably, neither of us do it often. It took the death of his oldest son, and father a month prior, for me to make two trips two years ago. His last trip to see me was seven years ago when my mom died. Death, it seems, was the tie that bound.
Not to say we haven’t talked on the phone. We have. The conversations last hours. Every time I call, his wife answers. She and I converse a few minutes and it ends up with her saying, “So, do you want to talk to Bill now?”. “Yep”, I eagerly reply. “Bill, it’s your friend, Doug”, is always what I hear being loudly proclaimed. Boy, do I feel warm fuzzies hearing that … even after all these years. Validates me. Yes, a fifty-something grown man is allowed to go out and play with a good friend. His wife said so. She knows it is a connection both Bill and I need. Nice.
My mom loved Bill. She respected his choices in life. He and his wife had specific challenges with two of their three children. Hard, hard choices most people would not have faced as bravely and faithfully as they did. They hung in there. Somehow mom nurtured our friendship by supporting him through all of it – as I did. She was that “extra special” in our friendship. At the memorial service for his son, I needed to speak on behalf of my mom’s memory – as well, to Bill and his wife. Those in attendance heard those exact words.
Both of us experienced wrestling coach fathers. We spent more time on the racquetball courts in college than behind desks studying. Roommates that loved pizza drove us nuts by never wanting any until we ordered, paid for, and began eating it …then heard the words, “hey, you gonna eat all that?”… We experienced the same goofy sibling rivalries. Opening packs of baseball cards as adults – acting like children – seemed normal to us. There was nothing we could do to not get the complete support of the other. Nothing.
…and that support lasts throughout the silence of the many months of no contact. I suspect the same is true of friendships that last a lifetime. Chance meetings early in life … moments that change the direction of the friend-ship. Looking back, there were three dorm moves and two chance roommates that led to Bill. Without these random events, there probably would be no Doug-Bill tandem today. No mom-Bill encounters. No chance to have all our lives enriched by heartache, successes, failures, connections, joys, births, deaths, jobs, and relationships.
When my birthday arrives soon, I know I will get a phone call. I ALWAYS do. It’s like clockwork. Bill always, always calls. If I don’t answer, there will be a message … it is never different. “Hey big guy. Thought I’d give you a call. Happy Birthday, big boy. Hope you have a good day.” This has been the message for over thirty years. Admittedly, sometimes I see the call and don’t answer because I want it to go to voicemail JUST to get the message … and then call Bill back. He’s such a good friend.
I am not as reliable. Today, however, I’ll make the call. He deserves it. Life is too short not to.