Monday, May 5, 2008

The old friend

It's not supposed to be this way. Our culture tells us it's impossible. But I'm here to tell you, this story is true, and right, and happened to me--changed my life.

My best friend, for ten solid years, was a boy. A male. We weren't childhood friends, playing in each other's sandboxes, hitting each other on the playground--nothing so simple. We became friends in high school, after my freshman year and his junior year. A summer volunteer job was the vehicle, with a couple other friends. It was one of those complicated high school situations--for some reason, we had to pair up at times, because of one person liking another. I wasn't part of that, and was easy to talk to (Also, to be blunt, not pretty enough to be the object of his, or anyone's, affection in those days!). Anyway, I remember our first real conversation--we were sitting on the lawn of a house where we'd just worked (I don't know where the other two kids had wandered off to). We talked about relationships--I know I told him about the boy I'd had a crush on for the last six months with no hope on earth of reciprocation. He wasn't encouraging, but didn't laugh at me either. We had that same conversation, one way or another, a thousand times over the next ten years. In the coming years I sat with him when he got his heart broken, and he listened to me when I wondered why I was doomed to unrequited love all my life. Deep sigh! And down the road a piece, when my engagement was broken, he dropped everything, hopped on a plane and flew down to the town where I was living. He couldn't do a thing for me but be with me. But that sacramental silence meant a lot to me--maybe not then, when I was too broken to thank him, but later when I realized what a sacrifice he'd made.

And over those ten years we taught each other a whole lot about the opposite sex. We helped each other buy gifts for significant others. We learned how to treat men and women well. He was sarcastic and funny, but deeply kind and generous. He didn't even like people to know how generous he was, I think. Once he sent flowers to all four girls in an apartment I shared, including his girlfriend. On her card, he wrote, "Love, K" and on mine, "What can I say?" He was quiet, people always told me, but I didn't notice that very much--he wasn't quiet with me. Or maybe I just talked enough for both of us.

There may have been a moment or two when I turned my head in his direction for a split second and wondered what might be between us if we were more--if I'd been pretty enough for him to see me, if he'd been whatever it was I was looking for in those days (there was that moment in the elevator--but I put my hand up like a stop-sign, because he was only teasing...). Those seconds didn't last, because it wasn't what we wanted from each other. What I wanted was to be what we were and what we were was what God intended us to be. But I've reaped the benefit in my marriage. When romance wears off in a marriage, what you have left is friendship. I'm a better friend to my Beve because I knew how to be a friend with my old friend. And that was the value--part of the purpose God had for us, I believe. God in all things working for good, as Romans 8 says. Only once did that split second last, and that was because of loss. He married before I did, and his marriage inevitably changed us. No, let's be honest. It ended our friendship to a great extent. And that was a tremendous loss--one of the deep losses of my life. It was an end I'd known was coming, and made the mistake of telling him so before he married (well, what I told him I will not share here), and it hurt us both. That June night was the hardest of our friendship--but one I won't ever forget. And our friendship did end with his marriage, for all intents and purposes. But quite right that it should be so. He needed to learn how to be his wife's best friend, and I needed to watch and wait. The Beve was only a year away, and right across the street, though I couldn't see it then. And now my best friend is the man I get to grow old and gray with, chubby and wrinkled with--and the one I'm in love with as well. Now that's what I call having it all.

It's not only the good things that inform our lives, obviously. That old friendship did, even that painful night when we both cried and said goodbye. I certainly don't want to leave the impression that what I had with my old friend has been anything but God-given, because I believe that's exactly what it's been. Still is. Used by God to grow me into His likeness. I still see this friend--once or twice a year, when I go back to the Palouse. He's still my friend. I'm proud, if I might be so bold as to say that, of who he's become. A long time ago, I had a small share in that. Men and women can be friends, only friends--I'm living proof of that.

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