A friend is a gift you give yourself
-Robert Lewis Stevenson
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Friends are the family you choose
-Jess C. Scott
No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.
I am not a religious person, but I sure do love the yuletide season. Kindness reigns over animosity. Seeds of generosity sprout even as trees strip down to their bare necessities. Yet, in a blink someone, somewhere will utter the words “only two weeks until pitchers and catchers” and the promise of baseball will scream through the lingering cold and those same trees will begin to blossom back into their full magnificence. I am willing to bet that if at that precise moment you were to scan the nearest tree or flower bed outside on the cold city streets you would notice the first subtle signs of new life. On Jan. 6th when the wise men bring their gifts to the infant and Christmas trees line the sidewalks waiting for the sanitation trucks, remember that in less than a year they too will return to inflate our withered spirits just when we need it most. Such are the trees of friendship, which through the seasons face their own ravages but when planted solidly and firmly,revive themselves with nature’s own precision.
I stand in utter amazement with each passing year of my good fortune. I have been gifted the love of a woman who by virtue of her very presence reminds me of the wonders all around. She is my best friend and the best thing that has ever happened to me. But I know that this paragraph may bring out her more bashful qualities and it is not my intention to embarrass my best friend. So, I will exit this paragraph.
In the Yule times of my youth nothing drove my mother crazier than the way I treated certain gifts that on the lead up to the big fatman’s delivery I just had to have. Gifts I begged for with a hearty succession of please, please, please with pretty pleases and a thousand cherries on top, were all too often dispensed to a life in the closet when I became bored with them after just a few uses. Friendships are among the most treasured of gifts and should never be relegated to closets of dusty memories. Nor should the heart and soul that goes into each one of them be trifled with.
My friendships go back to a time of CYO dodgeball and athletics on hardwood and asphalt as well as perverse games of sandlot tackle football in Central Park on Sundays. On such days the hits on the body colluded with a vague haze of delirium which crept up on us after a night when 32 ounces of fluids high in barley and malt content registered nary a blip on the electrolyte scale. When damaged body parts ceased to function in natural manners we acted as our own trainers, fashioning the most outrageous splints and protective casings in order to hasten our return to the field in search of other ways to damage still other body parts. We smoked our first joints together and shared our first sloppy steps into the life of the local tavern where our visas for entry were selective service cards devoid of an image when the legal age of majority for alcohol in NY State was 18. This meant we began jump starting the process as early as 15 or 16. June Cleaver had been cancelled, Eddie Haskell was likely in jail, and I often think that we were the step brothers of Dennis the Menace who had fallen through the cracks of parental observance. Mr. Wilson was I am certain, glad we were not ringing his doorbell.
It was a time of jumping on buses to escape the doldrums of a housing project only to meander through lake towns in New Jersey in summer and at times in winter as well, in search of adventure and perhaps adolescent romance, rarely finding the later but frequently engaging in the former, such as the winter night when the local police came knocking on the door and all manner of paraphernalia flew out the windows into the snows of the frigid New Jersey evening. There was a camp in upstate NY where many of us worked for a few summers and where some of us, experienced our first shivers of full-blown carnal maturity which we were likely truly not prepared for but which I will nonetheless always fondly recall.
College followed. It was where I met my first true love but blinded by my incessant immaturity, I failed to recognize the obvious. Before me stood a brown eyed optimist full of sound and fury, signifying everything, but the best of that would come much later. I’m a slow learner.
In these times I also feasted in the rituals of amity with a collection of folks with whom I still maintain contact and share fond fraternal memories. We are separated by geography and the banalities of everyday life,but our connections remain strong. Those treasured times are also among the most humorous and in some cases unusual of my life.
At a tavern in Greenwich Village where I worked an eternity ago, good friends still gather to laugh, converse, celebrate and sadly from time to time, mourn the loss of one or the other of us. I know that all ships at sea will be alerted and the lifeboats for the soul will engage for the necessary rescue operations when called upon. Soon our most misfit choir will reassemble, as we do each year and my heart will sing with joy even as my vocal chords and lungs combine to create sounds unknown to modern man.
I have also been fortunate enough to cultivate friendships through work, neighbors and even in places as diverse as the local laundromat and a colorful doughnut shop where I have been schooled in the ancient wisdoms of youth. I have been offered new gifts of fellowship in the oldest capital city in the United States where the altitude is thin, but the substance of life is wide. And I have been fortunate enough to reignite other relationships from another time in this special place.
And then there is that special assembly of people, men and women with whom I make my small contribution each year to making glad the hearts of children of all ages.The US army used to have a recruiting motto: “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure”. But we are a most adventuresome group ourselves, warring only against the enemies of the human spirit. We deliver bundles of comfort and joy to multitudes ravaged by the disasters natural and otherwise of the planet and the soul.
In the nature of things, at times, the gifted tree of friendship must sadly perish. Perhaps the roots have not been watered enough through a drought of connection or a change in the terrain where it is planted so that its most important nutrients cannot be absorbed any longer. Perhaps the culture we live in today poisons it beyond its ability to fight the infection. It seems I am seeing more and more of this and though I know there are things I cannot control in nature, it still brings me sadness. In these times when no amount of replanting or new nutrients will restore such life it is perhaps best to replant and offer a new gift to another.Perhaps the roots of an older tree may be rediscovered, and given newfound attention. I have discovered the sadness and the joy of all of this recently.
In this time of giving and gifting and re gifting let us continue to remember what is most important in life even as we are pushed to bottom out our souls in the names of intolerance, greed, misogyny and hate by grifters who have nothing else to sell us and remind ourselves that these things are foul and can never pass as a gift. Let us remember that the immigrant, the homeless and the different are not savages and carriers of disease and crime but rather others carrying the possibility of the gift of friendship. For in the end we are all yearning to breathe free and desire a more perfect union.
This will likely be my last Ledge View of 2018, unless of course some other unkind or abhorrent behavior on the part of the “powers that be” makes it necessary for the squirrel to pop his head up again. But in the meantime,have yourselves a merry little Christmas, or Hanukah or Kwanzaa or whatever wets your whistle of fellowship this season. We should welcome peace on and for this earth we call home and whom we should treat better for she is our mother and deserves better. We are simply devoid of meaning in this universe without her. Let us practice good will towards all because the alternative is unhealthy and in these precipitous times,perhaps hazardous as well. All the best and see you all in 2019. Thanks for reading.