Wednesday, November 26, 2008


After 15 years can you resume the life you had at 20? Can you see an old friend on the street, share a beer and not worry about why or how you stopped talking? No ill will, just time and distance creating the chasm.

The other night, while in Chicago, I had dinner with the most technically beautiful poet I’ve ever known. Both of us now missing hair and knowledge we had as youth, but from 40 feet, through windows and a cold winter night, I knew Rick sitting inside his car as if it were still 1990.

Perhaps it takes two people who know what they did wasn’t that bad, two people who are comfortable enough with themselves (and their choices later in life) and their friends to know any story told will only invoke fondness amongst the antagonists and listeners. Two people who know that telling stories is what inexplicably links us to others and makes us want to share, even if time and distance hasn’t allowed.

In my life, as I look back through the years and think about the people I remember, the people I am fond of, the people I consider allies, the people I consider friends all share one common trait. All these people would tell a story, ask a question or engage in a debate that taught me something. These are the people who when I look back on situations I don’t remember details of what we ate, was the food good, or why we were together; however, I do remember the stories, the conversation and how those people and their stories shaped my life.

Stories are what sew together the many fabrics, pieces, of our lives. The chance to bring together fabric from different eras of my life, to share those pieces with friends and family is worth the effort of crossing any burned bridges. I went to dinner with Rick, my (anonymous) sidekick, and Rick’s wife Joanna to share. We talked for hours, reliving our younger days, learning about our lives through the years that have past. Can you remember all the details you knew about a person 15 years ago? Should you remember these details? If you can does that make you a friend? Or on the other hand can you forget many of the details, not interact with a person yet remain their friend because of what you were, what you gave them, what they gave you. Do you remain friends with someone not only because of the physical closeness but because of the constant guidance they provide, the influence they have on making you a better person? If so how do people provide this guidance, if there is a lack of physical connection?

There are many people I see on a daily basis, yet I don’t consider them friends. I may talk with them, enjoy their company and spend time with them, yet they have not provided the more involved interaction and connections required to be a true friend. After dinner with Rick I thought about how awkward the evening could have been. Instead there was no uncomfortable silence, no wishing time was over and I realized why because of this story.

Rick’s dad at one point in his life frequented a bar with a black and white TV. The patrons of the bar would watch Chicago Cubs games on the TV and I assume share a drink or two. At one point (I admit some details of the story are fuzzy) a guy not originally from America also started frequenting the bar. He of course began to watch the belabored Cubs on TV with the rest of the patrons. As the story goes the guy didn’t fully understand or appreciate the complexity and difficulty of baseball from watching and learning about the game at a bar. The guy didn’t fully understand just how difficult it was to hit a baseball until one day Rick’s dad took the guy to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. It was there for the first time ever he realized the pitcher was not on the same team as the batter, but on the opposite team. This little (yet critical) bit of knowledge completely changed the game of baseball for the guy.

I’ve used this story many times in my job when working with people outside the U.S. I’ve worked to not take for granted the details of work that seem inherent to me as to someone with a different history the inherent are acquired. I haven’t seen, spoken or heard from Rick in nearly 15 years. I never met Rick’s dad as he passed away between freshman and sophomore years in college and I during the one year Rick and I knew each other when his father was alive I never was in the same place at the same time. Yet over the years I learned from Rick’s father, I learned from Rick and used this story to hopefully teach others.

Friendship can come in many forms and from many places, but it isn’t about what has happened in the last week, it is about the long term benefits friends bestow on friends. For me friendship is based on learning from and challenging another and taking those experiences out in life no matter who you are with. This year, if never before, friendship is worth being thankful for, thankful for those friends who are close, thankful for those who have taught us something today and also thankful for those who taught us something 20 years ago that we still use today.

For another essay on stories and friendship visit

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