Jesus Creed

Joseph Epstein’s fine study, Friendship: An Expose, has a chp on “friendlessness.” The chp, which speaks of a few kinds of friendlessness, led me to ponder a number of things.
Some are friendless because they have not made friends, some are friendless because their friends have died, some are friendless because they are not friendly. Epstein’s chp trades mostly with the second.
Do you have friends who have died? Got a story to share with us?
“We must,” Samuel Johnson once said, “either outlive our friends you know, or our friends must outlive us; and I see no man who would hesitate about the choice.”
One of my college basketball teammates, Kevin, who (rather surprisingly) became a pastor and left his teaching career at a high school, died too young. Colon cancer. We lived at the opposite ends of our county, but we saw one another about once a year or more inspite of having 30something and 40something busy careers; our sons shared one of our passions — basketball. As our two sons were coming into their high school prime, when fathers get to enjoy “the second time around” in a sports career by swapping stories with their sons, the doctors discovered his cancer and it ransacked his body. I went up to Zion periodically to talk and spend time with Kevin — I remember our last time together he was eating ice cubes and at one point observed that he had some unusual pain in his side. “Never had that one before.”
A few years later, his youngest son asked, through a friend, if I would have lunch with him. He wanted me to talk about his dad because he hadn’t heard all of Kevin’s great stories about life in college. (He was in grade school when his father died.) So, we sat at a pizza shop, Keith and I (with his school administrator, a friend of mine, too), and I talked about Kevin. About how he gave everyone a nickname. He called me “Adi” (for Adidas) because I had a bunch of Adidas boxes in my dorm room. About how he could create fun in every situation. Last year I saw his son in Boston when I was speaking there, and he once again wanted to hear some more stories about his dad. I was, and still am, glad I was Kevin’s friend. Recently I spoke at a church and Trish, his wife, came to the service.
“The dead,” Epstein observes so well, “if they made a strong impress upon us when they were alive, never leave us, not really, not finally.” I agree with him. [He used “impress” not “impression.”]
I can still see Kevin horsing around the way he did with his fingers, and every time I get near a McDonald’s I remember that Kevin once took his family into a Micky D’s and ordered one of everything — just for the fun of it. “Never leave us,” that’s for sure.

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