Posted by: mmreflections | March 9, 2010

All About Friendships: March, 2010

 “This is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (Cfr John 15:12-15)

One of my earliest childhood memories takes me back to when I was about four or five years old.  My brother, George, and his best friend, Teddy, were going out for a hike in the nearby hills and they took me with them.  Since I could not easily manage the trails at that age, hiking meant that George and Teddy would take turns carrying me on their shoulders.  I felt like a king riding high up on their strong shoulders!  The destination for the day was a place where the older boys went swimming on warm summer days.  In the hard coal area where I grew up our small city was surrounded by strip mines.  Strip mining is also referred to as surface mining as compared to tunnel mining for coal.  The coal companies would go into beautiful natural settings, tear open the earth and remove as much coal  as they could, leaving behind gaping holes in the earth surrounded by banks of dirt removed to reach the coal.  To this day some of the scars are plainly visible in the area.  The place to which we were hiking that day was one of these abandoned strip mines.  This one in particular had been abandoned because when mining they hit an artesian spring which quickly filled up and created a mini lake about the size of a football field.

This became the swimming hole strictly for men and boys from the surrounding neighborhoods.  It was here that  George and his friend, Teddy, taught me how to swim.  Those were great days!  With all the attention they gave me, I considered George and Teddy my first and best friends even though they were twelve years older.  George was the one who took me to school for the first time.  In a way these were idyllic days with few concerns and much time to enjoy life.  Then one day it seems like my whole world changed.

I noticed the serious attention all the adults were giving to the evening news on the radio during those late 1930’s.  I don’t really think I understood much of what was happening except that Hitler was doing some bad things in Europe and there was increasing anxiety about the possibility of war.  Then came December 7, 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The next day which happened to be my 8th birthday our country entered into World War II.  That morning as I was getting ready to go to school I overheard my brother, George, tell my mom he was enlisting in the Navy and would be leaving home to serve our country.  Tears rolled down my cheeks all the way to school that morning; I felt I was losing my best friend.  I also learned that Teddy had enlisted in the Army and was also going away.  My friends had become my heroes.  It would be a long time before I would see my brother again who served in the South Pacific.  I never saw Teddy again; he was killed in action in France.

Soon there were new friends who were my own age during those growing up years.  On summer days we often hiked the same trails, heading for our favorite swimming spot once enjoyed with George and Teddy.  On one of those occasions my friends and I, confident that we were now pretty good swimmers, decided it was time to attempt a swim across the width of what we considered our mini lake.  We happily and confidently began our swim.  About half way across, at the point of no return, I began to get really tired and was not sure I could make it all the  way.  I knew I could not turn back.  I remember calling to my swimming buddies and telling them I didn’t think I could  make  it to the other side.  The water was too deep for me to stand up and to touch bottom.  My friends quickly swam near me, surrounding me like a school of fish but not getting too close in case I would try to grab on to one of them and we would both go down.  Instead, they kept encouraging me to take another stroke.  I heard them screaming to me, “Mickey, we’re almost there!  Just a little more to go!”  They stayed at my side!  The thought uppermost in my mind was that my mom was really going to be angry if I drowned.  We did reach the other side!  We shouted and jumped for joy!  We had made it!  Together we pushed the envelope and accomplished something new.  Not long after that experience we were swimming the length of our mini lake and had become proficient swimmers.  I often recall that day and remember how important my friends were  to me as they cheered me on to the other side. “He who is a friend is always a friend, and a brother is born for the time of stress.”  (Proverbs 17:17)

Seventy years later, reflecting about the years that have transpired since that day, I find myself praising God for all the friends that have come into my life at exactly the right time.  There were the earliest friends in elementary  school,  the new friends in Junior and Senior High School, college friends, professional friends when teaching in public school, army buddies, close seminary friends, priest friends, spiritual guides and dearly loved former parishioners.  I realize today that my true friends were the ones who taught me to love, who helped me to accept love and who inspired me to draw nearer to God.  My heart overflows with gratitude as I remember all I learned from true friends who helped me, challenged me, motivated me to stretch for new heights, and who swam with me in the river of life even against the currents. “Two are better than one….  If one falls, the other will lift up his friend.  Woe to the solitary man!  For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

“Some friends bring ruin on us, but a true friend is more loyal than a brother.”  (Proverbs 18:24)  How true, long-lasting, friendships develop is worth considering at this time in our society when people around us seem to be in a such great hurry or are bombarded with continuous anxieties and stress.  Many seem to settle for friendship that consists of a card game once a week, enjoying a beer together, a quick lunch or dinner, a ball game, a brief chat via phone/internet, or a few passing remarks after some church services.  There appears to be an absolute fear of any degree of intimacy which is needed for valuable and loyal friendships  to develop.  How can we become friends if we don’t really know each other, if there is no intimacy?  Many of us have a false idea of what intimacy is all about. I once heard what for me was an important definition of intimacy: in to me see!  Experience has made me realize that my closest friends are those to whom I have opened my heart or who have opened their hearts to me.  We have shared our deepest secrets, fears, needs, concerns and dreams.  We have laughed together and we have cried together.  We have learned to be there for each other when one of us was about to sink.  We learned to love each other unconditionally just the way we are, with all our blemishes, faults, flaws, secrets, talents and gifts.  It could never have come about without intimacy!

We need not be afraid of friendship which is one of the great gifts given us by God.  Some friends will be there for a day, some when most needed, some for a special period of our life, some for years, and some for a life-time.  I have a most special friend who will be there for me now and for all eternity.

“Jonathan had become as fond of David as if his life depended on him; he loved him as he loved himself.  Saul laid claim to David that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house.  And Jonathan entered into a bond with David, because he loved him as himself.”  (1Samuel 18:1-3)

 

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Responses

  1. I would have gone to the ends of the earth to gather all the “Lesson Along the Way” and ” Reflections.” I was having a lot of difficulty receiving them via email. Posting all of the past and most recent chapters on WordPress.com was the best idea ever. This evening, I printed out everyone you’ve written, and now I’m able to sit down and read and read and read til my heart’s content, from the very beginning. Don’t ever stop writing, you have a captive audience and a real gift.

  2. Dear Fr. Mike,
    This is absolutely wonderful!! How marvelous that we can now access any or all of your previous reflections through this website. I feel such a strong connection with you & God when I read your stories. Please keep up your good work!
    God Bless you always!
    Love & prayers,
    Amy

  3. This is fantastic. I immediately added your page to My Favorites and it works beautifully. You are becoming high tech! I know Matthew will be impressed. Dina W.

  4. Thanks for these reflections, Mike. Your friendship has been so meaningful and important to me these last 14 years…it is nice to know your take on friendship.


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