This morning on the way to school one of the boys asked me if I’d ever run out of gas while driving.
It brought to mind a story about the 2nd (and, thankfully, final) time I ever ran out of gas. I was on crutches, one of my ankles sprained, and had gone out for the evening (I was in my early 20’s, and prone to having evenings out on work nights) and was driving home through a rural stretch of road in Westbrook, Maine. I had been eyeing my gas needle vigilantly as I had known I needed gas earlier in the evening, but had stayed out far later than expected and therefore all the gas stations were then closed and I was unable to fill my tank.
Lo and behold; I ran out of gas. As the car came to a stop I eased off to the side of the road in a familiar place. Fortunately my car had taken it’s last sip of fuel right at the base of the hill my office building sat upon. I was then in the habit of leaving my door key card in my car to avoid forgetting it in the morning, and blessed my good fortune that, whereas it was the middle of winter, I wouldn’t have to sit in the cold nor try to make my way home, which was several miles away.
I took my crutches and my car keys and made my way up the partly ice-covered drive to the building, let myself in, and made my way to my desk. That was the easy part. I now had to try to decide whom to call for assistance. It was 2 a.m. It was the middle of the week. Most people I knew were home asleep, safely tucked away in their beds (as I should have been). Beyond that, whose phone number did I know well enough to dial it from memory?
After a few moments, one name sprung to mind, and as luck would have it, so did her phone number. I dialed, and waited while the phone rang, already cringing at what I thought her voice would sound like, filled with annoyance at being awoken at this ridiculous hour. She picked up and as if through a fog said, ‘Hello?’
‘Julie….it’s Brad…I’m sorry to wake you.’
‘That’s okay…what’s up?’
‘I’ve run out of gas…I’m on crutches…several miles from my house…I need help.’
She asked where I was. I told her the location, and gave her a landmark that I knew she’d be familiar with.
‘Give me half an hour, I’ll be there.’
I hung up the phone and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Within thirty minutes she arrived. I had made my way back to my car and waited for her. She pulled up alongside my vehicle with her own and I opened the passenger door and climbed in.
‘Thank you so much….’ I began.
‘Wait….’ she said, ‘Let’s just save that for another time.’
We rode in silence to my house where she dropped me off. I thanked her once again, and said I’d call her that night. She nodded, put the car in reverse, and backed out of the driveway.
That was twenty-five years ago (give or take a few months). Julie and I are still in touch, albeit very sporadically via social media. She’s not as frequent a poster on the internet as I am.
I have friends that I’ve known since kindergarten. They’ve seen me through all the iterations of my life….quiet child…reserved teen…blossoming young adult…more confident man….husband…and father. One of them read a traditional blessing at my wedding. Another recently bought my mother’s car for his daughter and even helped me load some of her furniture into a moving truck. Several of them ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on my social media posts. I interact with them as often as I can, and bless the modern world for being able to know, no matter how infrequently, what is going on in their lives. It’s one of the reasons I will always be grateful to the world wide web for existing. Those I’ve known for more than forty years of my life, along with others I’ve met along the way, I consider to be ‘forever friends’. They will, I hope, be in my life until my last breath, in one way or another.
I haven’t run out of gas in twenty five years. But I have needed a shoulder to cry on…a place to stay…someone I can trust to watch the boys for an hour or two…assistance with my mother’s needs when she still lived in Maine..someone to hold my hand while I phoned for test results that were worrying me, or just a friendly face when times have been difficult. No matter what the ‘need’ has been, I’ve always had someone to meet it. I am most fortunate indeed that I say that. I count that amongst the greatest blessings of my life.
Some of my friends are former ‘enemies’. We have put aside and even laughed about our former animosities, and have given and received forgiveness. I’ve had the chance to apologize to people for my part in whatever we didn’t necessarily like one another for back then. Some of my friends are former lovers who, after the romance wore off, we both realized that the friendship could (and should) remain intact. I know many, many people. Some of these friendships are deeper than others, some just casual encounters now and again. I am grateful for them all.
I have tried in my life to be the kind of friend who will help you pack and move. The kind who will listen to whatever is troubling you and offer whatever support I can. The kind who keeps confidences. The kind who you can trust with your kids and know they are just as safe as my own would be when in my care. I’ve shared of myself with others not to make things ‘about me’ but to perhaps instill a sense of ‘you’re not alone in this’ in others when they’ve had challenging times. I’ve never expected to receive anything in return for what I’ve offered. I’ve been most fortunate to get it back a thousand fold from those I’ve given to.
What I tried this morning to impart to my kids, in the few minutes drive to school and with the ‘running out of gas’ story is how important friends are in our lives. How we never know when we will need to trust or rely on someone and how wonderful it is to HAVE someone to trust or rely on in your life.
And, more than that, how important it is to BE that for someone else. Be the kind of friend who shows up when someone needs you. Be the kind of friend who can hold on to a ‘secret’ as long as it’s not hurting anyone. Be the kind of friend who gives of yourself without anticipation of reward or compensation. Be a good friend. Be a kind friend. Be a constant friend.
Be a forever friend.
To my friends, my forever friends and my casual acquaintances alike, I hope you’ve read this and hope you know how important you are to me. I hope I have been the kind of friend that is deserving of your time and your caring. I hope I never do anything to betray your friendship. I hope that you understand that with me, no matter how much time passes in between our interactions, you are still my friend, and as far as I’m concerned we’ll just pick up where we left off.
And if you ever run out of gas, even at 2 a.m. – give me a call.