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As we enter the American winter holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Years Day, thoughts turn to friends and family. Even for those bereft or apart from those who love or especially like them, the days on the calendar occasion strong emotional responses. Just ask a bartender about their business later on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. So it is fitting to pause, reflect, and give thanks for friends and family.
I give thanks for a mother and father who are still in love after raising four children and seeing them into middle age. Their example, individually and as a couple, flies in the face of our culture, which has shouting “do your own thing” while selling us hard on what that “thing” should be from moment to Madison Avenue pitched moment. We kids were given a great life advantage even over a number of our economic peers.
I give thanks for an amazing set of siblings, women with fascinating family and professional lives. We had all the usual dynamics of sibling rivalry as kids, but as adults, as mothers themselves, they and their children grew closer, even as they made their own homes in different parts of the country or world.
Living at some physical distance from family, I have been reminded time and again of the importance of cultivating friendships. You do not need many, but you need a few true friends nearby. Observation and personal experience reinforce this truth.
In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, I lived in an apartment in Tucson, AZ. A tall, lean elderly lady would walk her little dog through the complex every day. I was in and out of town with some regularity, so I missed when she suddenly stopped walking. A neighbor told me that she was found dead in her apartment after several days. She had been somebody in the New York fashion or publishing business back in her younger days, but moved to Tucson in her late retirement years without any friends or family.
I had just finished a great day of skiing on Mount Lemmon, the high point on the low mountains bounding Tucson to the north. I walked back to my car and put the skies on the roof rack. Reaching for my car keys, I found my zippered hip pocket was open and the keys gone, lost on the slopes, either when I fell on my butt rather than face-planting, or getting on or off the chair lift. Fortunately, my Motorola flip phone was working, and my AAA membership was paid up with the 100-mile tow option. A couple of hours later, as I rode down the mountain in the tow truck cab, I called my friend of several years to meet me with the spare apartment key. I had been available to help him out, beyond the occasional lift to the airport, and he was available to help me out on a cold winter night.
Far more recently, I have had a couple of occasions to visit a medical clinic or emergency room for preventive checks or worrying symptoms. In each case, being far from immediate family, I relied upon close friends to see me to or from the medical facility. What a truly sad thing it would be if I had to rely upon hired strangers to look after me in the somewhat loopy state of anesthesia wearing off. These relationships matter to both physical and mental well-being, yielding both present value and a sort of social insurance benefit.
It is generally foolish to go hiking alone, even along well-marked trails. As a young officer, I was recruited into a weekend adventure that turned into friendship. My fellow captain, serving on the same staff, approached me after he almost became a cautionary tale. He wisely carried a light pack with the minimum gear needed to hunker down for a night when he went snow-shoeing in the woods on the slopes approaching Mount Rainier. Then came the late afternoon when he slipped, tumbling into a frozen, dry, rocky creek bed. He bundled up and chewed a candy bar for energy through the night, crawling out in a self-rescue at first light. We covered the same terrain and much more over the next year or so, prepared to help each other if the occasion arose.
My friends who I rely upon in an emergency now are the friends I also rely upon as we escape the desert heat for camping near an intermittent creek in the rugged high country. Oh, we go there for fun and fellowship, but we have chosen each other as reliable companions as well.
Friends and family matter in the here-and-now and beyond. Yes, it matters that there are people who inquire after me and who I am expected to inquire after, maintaining connections. It especially matters that there are people who keep me in their prayers and for whom I can give thanks, where these are more than throwaway phrases.Published in