Friends

Susanne and I just returned from a delightful trip to Canada to visit some very dear college friends. First of all, we love Canada and — even if Donald Trump were not running for President — we have thought about how great it would be to live there. Great people, beautiful country.

But this post is about friends. I have known these two couples for well over forty years. The guys were fraternity brothers (Beta Theta Pi, Gamma Xi Chapter at the University of Florida) and they were in love with their wonderful wives even then. I was dating my first wife, Pam, in those days as well and we were pretty much constant companions with the other two couples.

When Pam died unexpectedly in 2000, one of these dear friends made a special trip to check up on me and see how I was doing. Then, he and his wife came to our wedding when Susanne and I married later. They have always accepted her and the friendship has continued fun and easy and I think she enjoys these reunions almost as much as Pam would have.

The second couple I literally have not seen for most of those forty years! We visited once early on and recently have been in touch by email. But I had no idea how things would go after so many intervening years. The answer? It was pretty much like we had just seen each other! Isn’t that the way it is with real friendship? The bonds are so deep, the shared experiences so lasting that it’s really easy to pick up where you left off.

We had a beer on Centre Island overlooking the beautiful Toronto skyline, visited some Ontario wineries, laughed our way through an evening at Second City, ridiculed Donald Trump, and even broke out the guitar to harmonize on “The Sound of Silence” as we did years ago. All great fun.

Of course, Fraternities, and the entire Greek system, have certainly come under a lot of criticism in recent years and, in fact, have always had their share of detractors. Like most institutions, it is far from a perfect system but much work has gone on (some of which my friend was involved in as a national chapter executive for a number of years). Most fraternities have “cleaned up their act” (including my own at Florida) although I’m sure there is still much that can be done.

Nonetheless, I will always be grateful for the friendships I made through Beta Theta Pi and how the experience allowed me to grow up a bit and test some leadership skills which would come into use later in life.  It was an experience of “community” that I had yet to find in the church, but later would.

Whether discovered and nurtured in something like a fraternity or not, friendship is one of life’s richest blessings. The Greeks (the real ones, not frat boys!) had a word for it — “Phileo,” fondness, friendship. Along with three others (Eros – romantic love, Storge – family loyalty, and Agape – unconditional love, like God’s) it defines a quality I hope everyone experiences at some point in their lives.

Proverbs says it best: “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (18:24)

 

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