Remember that oldie but goodie by Michael W. Smith? It was popular when I was in high school, and a few of us sang it at various times — when older friends graduated, or just because we felt like being a bit sappy. Well, it has been coming to my mind a lot lately. Perhaps because of my 20-year high school reunion, but mostly because this summer has been a summer of friends.
Sometimes I like to find themes for certain seasons of my life: I have had a year of growth; I have had seasons of loss and new life; I have had a year of change… For the last three months, the theme that has stood out to me is friendship — long-lasting, friends-to-the-end kind of friendship.
It started with our trip to Portland about 6 weeks ago. We visited and stayed with our close friends, the Trentaz family. Perry Trentaz and Vence have been friends since their college days at Anderson University. I think it all started in Dunn Hall, and of course, in true Vence and Perry fashion there is wild story to how it all began, something about swinging on water pipes, a flooded dorm basement, and somebody being banished to an upper floor next to another somebody’s room, or something of that sort. I’ll leave the details vague to protect all interested parties. In any case, I eventually met Perry because of Vence. The three of us spent a lot of time together — playing a lot of Settlers of Catan, eating Cheetos, drinking beer, waiting for trains (another story for another time), and really just doing life. Quite fittingly, Perry was the best man in our wedding, and he also escorted me up the steps to Vence as I had walked down the aisle. He and Vence have a lot of history, and if you know some of that history, you will understand why it was the perfect role for Perry in our wedding.
Perry’s wife, Cassie, was in college with me. We were acquaintances and had mutual friends, but didn’t run in the same circles. However, because of her eventual relationship with Perry we came to know her a little better. And, each time we see them I get to know her more, which has been great.
Now, fast forward to our recent trip to Portland. We pulled into their driveway, and all the time that had passed since we last saw each other melted away. It was as if no time had passed. Even our kiddos (or babes, as Cassie would say), who hadn’t seen each other in 3 years, took off playing. Cassie and I were able to spend quite a bit of time together because the fellas were off riding bikes, and it was great. On our last evening there, I said, “Now we will have a piece of our hearts on each coast — Portland, OR and Bradenton, FL.”
Which leads me to next time of reflection on friends. Our other best friends, the Sallee family, live in Bradenton, FL, where William is a pastor. We met them 16 years ago (wow, it seems unreal to type that) when they moved to Anderson so William could attend Anderson University School of Theology. He worked part-time at East Side Church of God while in school, which is where Vence also worked, at the time. They became fast friends, and William’s wife, Robin, and I became friends because of singing in the choir together. I couldn’t tell you how it all came about, but we eventually started spending a lot time together, and they met Perry, and so as would seem appropriate, we also started playing “the game” (Settlers of Catan) with the Sallees. They were in Anderson four years, and then moved to Florida. I still remember pulling away from their house the day they were leaving. I don’t mean to get all emotional, but truly my heart was breaking. Over the 12 years they have been gone, we try to visit as often as possible. They have been here a few times, but more often we go there (can you blame us?). It had been 2 years since we had been down to visit them, and honestly, Minnie Mouse and I were going through serious Sallee withdraw (Vence got in a quick visit this past January, on a work-related trip). So, there was a lot of happy-dancing and hooting-and-hollering the day William asked if we would be open to visitors over the 4th of the July. Really, there is no need to ask. “Just tell us the date you are coming.” They arrived late in the evening, and as in Portland, it was as if 2 years melted away, and no time had passed. The kids were off and playing, talking, yelling, screaming, and enjoying one another. The 4 adults sat down in the living room, and talked as though we had never been separated. It was beautiful. My house was filled with the sounds of feet running, children screaming joyfully, and constant activity. I loved every minute of it, and was sad to see them pull away just a few days later. There went that piece of my heart.
Well, these two encounters left me feeling rather nostalgic, thus my thoughts turned to my next rather big venture this summer — my 20-year high school reunion. Memories began flooding back, and excitement began brewing as I thought of the friends I would see there. People I have known since I was 5 years old, but haven’t seen in a decade or more would be present. Thanks to Facebook, I don’t feel so far removed from everyone’s lives. I know their spouses’ names and faces, their children’s names and faces, where they went on vacation, and what crazy things might have happened in their lives. But, nothing replaces actually seeing their faces, being with them physically, and sharing life, if even for a few short hours. Years had passed, and a lot happened over those years, but when I saw the faces of my closest friends from childhood, it was as if those years melted away. We picked up where we left off with no awkwardness. And, I left the weekend feeling a renewed spirit, believing that we won’t let 20 years pass before we see each other again.
And, so I sit here typing today, this day after my reunion weekend, and reflect. It occurs to me that my heart is actually broken into many pieces, and those pieces are scattered in many different directions. And that feels good. It feels right. Because that means that I have given my heart away to all of you, my friends. And, as the song concludes, “No, a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”