Jim Bishop: Thank you for being a friend

“Friend, I will remember you,
Think of you, pray for you …”
– John Denver (Friends With You)

A friend I heard described as “someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” I seem to be forgetting a lot of words these days, Not only am I verbally challenged, but am having difficulty remembering where I’ve parked my car, placed the greeting cards that I purchased on vacation and have promptly disappeared and deposited my cell phone (it was under the car seat last time).

When these hapless events arrive, sooner for some than others, I need friends more than ever to help rejoin those lapses in the mental synapses, offer counsel and words of encouragement – and if needed – to just let me know, “I’m here for you . . . and expect the same from you.”

Little surprise, then, to say that my companion of 46 years, my loving spouse Anna, is my best friend. That’s a long time span, yet it seems like only yesterday that I cast my first longing gaze across the college dining hall at this petite, dark-complexioned lass and thought to myself, “Who is this fair young damsel? Would she even give me the time of day – if she knew my persona and checkered past?”

I hasten to add that this “best friend” concept this wasn’t immediately apparent when we first wed that stifling hot July night in 1967. (Ah, the infamous summer of love; it was for us, and neither of us wore flowers in our hair).

We all need other persons around us, not only to call our friends but also to put in a good word for us when we’re not around.

Part of the process of finding friends is you first have to be one yourself, to be open, somewhat vulnerable, and genuinely interested in getting to know new people. It’s easier to run with the pack, always talk with the same persons in whatever social setting you find yourself, but a bit of risk-taking may result in building a friendship with someone whom you initially thought you’d have little commonality with (maybe open the conversation by asking him or her whether a sentence can end with a preposition).

I’ve found over the years that one way to find out who your friends really are is when you’re flat on your back because of an illness, injury or surgery. See who responds without even being asked to and doesn’t just say, “Let me know what I can do” but just goes ahead and does it.

Here’s a quotable note: “A friend is one who understands your past, believes in your future and accepts you just the way you are.” While that’s true, I would add that a true friend isn’t satisfied with the way I am but will go out of his or her way to help me sharpen my gifts and encourage me to use them to not only help others but to help mold me into becoming a better person.

Wife Anna and I settled in the ‘Burg and have remained rooted here some 39 years. That has certainly helped in developing new friendships but at the same time has made it more difficult to bid farewell to certain persons whom we deemed some of our best friends over the years. The emergence of electronic mail has helped us get back in touch, but meanwhile, I stubbornly refuse to become anyone’s “friend” on Facebook.

Life is not an easy road but the journey is heightened and its trials are lightened when we have friends to join the fray along the way. Social media networking has its place, but for me, nothing can replace a touch of grace from someone extending the hand of friendship.

This simple song from childhood sums it up: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our griefs and sins to bear . . .” Now there’s Someone who knows the song in my heart even before I forget the words.

Column by Jim Bishop. Jim can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.

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