We've had many great friends in our lives. Are you kidding? We went to high school together, and still claim as friends those we knew and loved then. We can sit down with those who knew us in elementary school and not come up for air for three days, talking & laughing about everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. And everywhere we've lived, we've picked up friends like adding jewels to our crowns. OK, so we're hoarders that way. We like adding them and can't bear to let any of them go--you should see our Christmas list. But if you asked us our 911--who we'd call when a true emergency happens, or simply when the chips are down and we can't play another hand and have to have someone simply be with us for a minute while we catch our breath, these are the friends.
J and K. Our-friends-the-M--s. That's what my youngest brother calls them: "You're going with the "Our-friends-the-M--s." I guess I've referred to them that way once too many times over the years. Sorry about that. Well, not really. We became friends over chips and salsa & sour cream and doing youth ministry together 15 years ago. Facing outward away from each other, which, CS Lewis would say, is the best, the only way to become real friends. Sometime in that first year, J, the actual youth director at the church where Beve and I were volunteers, asked how many of our family might go on the high school mission trip. I told him, "Either 5 or none." From that moment on, the M--s were committed to 5 in their family as well, so 5 of them and 5 of us, and 30 high schoolers went to SE Alaska for two weeks. It was on that first trip that we became real friends. Our kids sitting out front of the little church in Hoonah with their candy (OK, smoking those old candy cigarettes like pros!), us leading separate small groups of unbelievably damaged high school students (this was NOT your average church group), my husband, who can be physically imposing, getting into K's personal space (Q-Tips, anyone?) more ways than one, and all the while talking and singing and praying with those teenagers, and becoming just short of family, the ten of us. One night we had a family meeting, talked of discipline for our little ones and theirs. Our youngest, SK, was only 5 years old at the time, and their oldest, B, was maybe 11, and the other 4 were matched pairs between. It was remarkable. What we realized that night was that the four of us have the same-sized hearts, even if Beve is a legal giant and K is a foot and a half shorter.
I've counted 8 different trips we've taken with them over the years, and that doesn't include all the nights we've just spent together under their roof or ours. One incredibly memorable camping trip to Ashland where there was a thunderstorm while we were at a play and the lights went out, while the kids were back in the tentrailers, scared silly. We sat in the dark, thinking we had the worst of it, but they really had the story to tell--lightning and thunder on the metal roof, 'abandoned' by their parents. That B, she can spin a yarn, I'm telling you. And there was the trip to Palm Springs in July. Yes, I know. July. We really all do have college degrees, advanced degrees even. Just none in weather. It didn't matter. I think it was our all-time favorite trip. The Lawrence Welk resort. Those kids were in their suits so fast you'd have thought the pool was about to dry up. OK, so K and I weren't that far behind them. J, K and I were sitting in the shallows watching the six kids when the Beve walked out a door with 4 glasses of champagne. Are you kidding me? Could there be a better life than that? We drove all the way to Tijuana one day and wandered far into the city (far enough that everyone but Beve felt uncomfortable) just so Beve and K could find some cheap vanilla.
We camped along the Trans-Canada highway the summer J's dad died--that was a hard trip. He was on auto-pilot, and hardly knew it. Ended up at Glacier Park in Montana where I climbed into the back of our van and hid my head driving up the Highway to the Sun, or whatever it's called--I block those things out of my memory. Nothing like a road where you can fall a thousand feet or more and people find it beautiful. Not me, thank you very much. If it hadn't been about 100 miles long, I would have walked back down. We did have a great day at Eugene and Jan's on Flathead Lake, but I won't put his last name, so no one thinks I'm a name dropper. I drank a little too much that day--he just kept pouring, I just kept drinking. But oh, what a time. A never to be forgotten day. I'm so glad we shared it.
I've loved the trips. Sure, I have. I've loved that we find ways to talk meaningfully at every turn, that we don't settle for superficiality. I love who they make Beve and me be. I love thinking of the times we've been there for them as well. Our-friends-the-M--s are a whole lot different than us. That's what makes it work, I think. They're phenomenally talented musically. And us? Well, we're pretty good at listening to music. The Beve's an athlete, and K? Well, she likes to keep in shape. J? He's a pastor, a preacher. And me? Just give me a pulpit...Smile! Beve and K have gifts of hospitality--it shows every time we are together. They are the ones who do the shopping, think through the menus for our vacations. J and I? He and I have to be reminded to help--unless it's barbequing, then he hops right up. So we're different from each other. Not made in the same mold. But we're in this thing together. Doing this life together for the long haul. We talk about retiring together, living in a duplex side-by-side. I can see it really. I know what it would be like. How we'd spend our days. They'd make me get up and do, I'd make them slow down and think. It'd work, I know it would.
The day my father died, they called while my siblings and I were sitting in my childhood home, talking. J asked what they could do to help. I asked, "Would you sing?" And they said they would. My sister wanted a particular song that was pretty popular then--"Wind Beneath My Wings." It wasn't exactly the kind of song K usually sings. But of course they said they'd sing it. Without a moment's hesitation. They knew who my dad was to me. That's who they are to us.
A couple years ago, on a veranda of a restaurant on the Baja penninsula, we sat with them and watched the sunset. It had been a wonderful week, and that sunset was a blaze of glowing color. That whole week, one of J's goals had been to see the green flash. The last moment the sun hits the horizon, there is a flash of green light, and it's brilliant and breath-taking and most people never see it. You have to watch and watch and then if you blink your eye you'll miss it. So as we drove, we stared at the Pacific horizon, K and I (as we'd been the entire week) from the back seat of our rental car. And suddenly, we saw it, K and I. And it was glorious. It was a flash that flooded the ocean, then was gone. But neither Beve, who was driving, nor J had seen it. Then K said, "J, you'd never be able to see it." J, you see is color blind. He can't see the color green. But I'm here to tell you, he has seen it. Our friendship, it's been like that green flash, rare, brilliant and breath-taking, and coloring the whole horizon of our lives. Worth waiting for.