When my college roommate, Woody, arrived at my house last week, I was elated to see him. For years, we were virtually inseparable – even when his service to the country took him to Germany, Iraq and elsewhere. But, once he moved to upstate Vermont and I started a family back in Boston, the frequency of our communication dwindled to Facebook posts and annual “fly-by’s” at best.
Fortunately, there are some people that you can just pick up with – time and distance doesn’t seem to matter. For me, he is one of them. We can talk about anything, be completely open, and share thoughts, feeling and ideas that may otherwise be reserved for a select few. This time was no exception, but our conversation gave me a fresh perspective on friendship and life.
When I asked the gratuitous, “How are you?” I was expecting to hear more about what I had been actively reading on his Facebook posts – his run for state legislature, making maple syrup, bear sightings in his backyard and general Vermont living. Of course, I would also hear about his dating adventures which were always an interesting topic. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, he shared the details of his 18 month battle with cancer. The aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, the unbearable sickness, the stem cell transplant and, fortunately, the fact that it all worked.
I did all I could to hold back the tears. For those who know me, you know that I cry easily. But, I often cry out of pride. And, I was anything but proud at this moment. I knew he had cancer and even spoke with him a few times while he was gong through it. Last year, I honored him by writing his name on my bald cap during Be Bold Be Bald Day. But, somehow, I never truly grasped the gravity of the situation. Perhaps, unconsciously, I didn’t want to go through the pain of watching a friend go through this again. But, that is not excusable.
Over the course of lunch, I mostly listened. (Clearly, I hadn’t been doing a good job of that before.) His journey was difficult, but hearing him tell it was inspiring. It forced me to see a perspective that isn’t always that clear. And today, I’d like to share some of that with you.
- Attitude is everything
As difficult as his fight was, Woody’s attitude stayed positive throughout. He cherished the positives while not dwelling on the negatives. And he is now motivated to help others do the same. That’s inspiring!
- It’s OK to accept/ask for help
Woody told me that the one thing that got him through his battle was his ability to say “yes.” At first, he was too proud to accept or ask for help from anyone. But he realized that accepting help not only helped him, but also made those who helped him feel better.
- Don’t rush to judgment
My friend knows what it is like to have a bad day – and understands how that can impact your behavior. He shared that he is much slower to make judgments about people who may be behaving badly as he doesn’t know what they may really be going through. We should all do the same.
- Make a difference
We talked a lot about “our time here on Earth.” When we leave, we will not be remembered for how much money we made. We will be remembered for the difference we made in our communities. If I lived in VT, he’d have my vote for State Senate next year.
- Understand, accept and forgive
Thankfully, I can still call him my friend (and he still calls me his). I was not a great friend but, perhaps for all the reasons above, he was able to forgive me. Actually, “forgive” may be the wrong word – somehow, he understood and accepted my lack of communication. That is a sign of a true friend.
- Don’t be fooled by Facebook
Just because Facebook is showing happy photos of your friends, don’t assume all is well. Pick up the phone, visit or send an email. That’s what real friends do.
As we enter the holiday season, I am thankful for friends like Woody. Friends who can be open and honest with me, regardless of time and distance. Friends who accept me for who I am, and forgive me for my faults. Friends who continue to teach me what’s most important in life.