“The greatest gift of life is friendship…
and I have received it.”
~ Hubert H. Humphrey
And it is a gift whose moments often bring the softest of tender tears to the heart and soul. Although “The Ride” itself has ended, there are so many wonderful moments to look back on, and I hope you’ll allow me to share a story of this one – one of true transcendence from what probably were the most cherished few hours along the journey….
Judy and I were high school friends – well, in reality, she was far more than that to me. My childhood and especially my teen years were difficult at best; actually they were often terribly frightening and brutal. I was beaten by an angry father and suffered through many years of extreme emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a schizophrenic mother. I recall more times than I can count being tossed out of the house early in the morning, clad only in my jeans and sneakers no matter the weather – rain, snow, heat – and told not to come back until the evening, when it was time to do my chores. Due to a number of reasons beyond my control I had few friends or places to go. Judy and her family, though they had their own challenges, would take me in, feed me, give me shelter and warmth. I could always knock on their door, and it was always open to me. She and I – and a couple of other kids at school who were a bit ostracized – would gather at lunch in the stairwells, playing guitar and singing songs of peace and hope to come. It was a circle of calm in turbulent times, both personally and politically. In many ways she and her family saved my sanity, and we developed a bond that existed beyond a need for words or constant contact. So when I began my journey in June of 2015, I’d hoped with all of my heart to have a chance to see my old friend, as I knew I’d be stopping briefly in Pittsburgh – where I’d gone to school, and where she still lived. It had been many years since I’d visited that city and it took a while to get my bearings, but on a day that will forever be beautifully etched into my memory, we reached across the bridge and closed a decades long gap.Another friend from high school was playing mandolin at an Irish Pub in town that night – I was to go with him, and she would join us there after work. I’d not seen Judy in 43 years … since our graduation day. I waited nervously – how had she changed? Would we still be friends? Would the connection still be there? The minutes ticked by insufferably slowly. It was almost time for the band to start, was she coming? Had she changed her mind? After innumerable heart-stopping openings and closings of the door … nope, not her, sigh … the long awaited moment finally came. It honestly was if a slow motion Hallmark movie … we shouted and screamed and ran toward each other, caring little about what anyone saw or heard, or the stares and mouths agape. Embracing, rocking, not ever wanting to let go again, tears streaming down both of our faces. We spent the next few short hours catching up and talking … yet, in many ways we didn’t need to. And then we said our goodbyes once again.
There are connections that lie beyond the realm of words, but rather live and breathe in spirit beyond. The greatest gift in life is friendship … and indeed, I have been blessed and honored with this most incredibly beautiful of gifts.