Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Best Friend, John

Do you have a best friend? I mean one that has been your best friend since early childhood and remains your best friend to this day. I do. And, his name is John. We have been best friends for over 50 years, so long that I cannot remember when we were not best friends.

This entry is prompted by the fact that my best friend left us at the beach today to return home because of his sense of duty and commitement to a part-time position, when he could have stayed here without any questions asked. That is the kind of person he is.

Old home movies show us playing together as pre-school children. We were in school together from kindergarten through high school graduation. We were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts together. We went to the 1957 Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, PA and to the Philmont Scout Camp in New Mexico together. We received our Eagle Scout awards together. We played football together. He was the star quarterback. I was a grubby lineman. We were co-captains of the football team our senior year. He was, by far, the better athlete, excelling in basketball and baseball as well as football, while I could not make the team in the two latter-mentioned sports, so I served those as student team manager. It still irritates him to this day that I was named the most outstanding athlete in our class. I agree. The award should have gone to him.

John went to college on a football scholarship. There he met his wonderful wife. Then to my surprise, no, to my utter amazement, John went to Duke Divinity School in order to pursue a career as a minister. I will only say that he was the last person that I grew up with that I would have ever imagined entering the ministry and going to such a demanding institution as Duke. While he was not a stupid person by any means, the truth is, that while in high school he was not the most dedicated student. He had other interests at the time. I credit his wife with channeling his energy and intellect into a that of a scholar.

We had kept in contact during our college years, seeing each other mostly during school breaks. We worked together as common laborers for a large commercial air-conditioning company following our junior year in college. By that time it was OK for us to share a beer together, but not at his house. While he was in Divinity School at Duke and I was in Medical School down the road at UNC (Go Heels), we got together on occasions, especially after I got married. But for the most part we had our own separate social circles of classmates. Then, after he graduated and I was still a medical student, he was assigned three small rural churches not far from Chapel Hill. John and his wife needed friends, apart from his congregations. He needed a place that he could relax. Do any of us realize what a glass house we construct for our preachers? Anyhow, my wife and I provided a comfort zone for them. It was during this time that John decided, after consulting with his brother, a career Army physician, to apply to the Army Chaplin's Corps.

He was accepted and commissioned an officer (Chaplin) in the U.S. Army. He went to Viet Nam, where, as a Chaplin, he was awarded medals (I'm not sure whether they were Bronze Stars or Silver Stars, since he is hesitant to talk of his exploits) for Valor, very unusual for a Chaplin. When I entered the military and we were in transit from N.C. to Fort Sam Houston, TX, we visited John and his wife at his new posting at Fort Polk, LA. He could not understand why I, as a doctor, entered as a Captain while he, as a Chaplin, was a First Lieutenant after a couple of years of service. I could only defer to the infinite wisdom of the U.S. Army. It was at Fort Polk that he introduced me to Harvey Wallbangers. I have not had one since.

Over the years we have remained close. We saw each other at high school reunions when John was not serving overseas. On one such occasion we had a very good party. John was supposed to participate in the service at his home church that Sunday. His older brother was at home for the occasion. But, unfortunately, John was under the weather with a "stomach virus". His mother never cared much for me after that because she was convinced that I had slipped him some alcohol in his drinks at the party and gotten him drunk. I never told her otherwise.

When John was the Chief Chaplin at Arlington National Cemetery, our family visited his, and he wowed us with his knowledge of the history of that national shrine. We got the "cook's tour". Later when he was reassigned to Germany and we wanted to return to Germany where I had served for three years and where we adopted our son, John and his wife were gracious hosts for a portion of our trip. Even later, following my cancer surgery, once again they welcomed us to their last posting in Arizona, where I regained my strength. We RV'd to the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, and finally Las Vegas. I will never forget that trip.

John retired from the military as a full-bird Colonel after thirty years of service to his country. He saw duty as a young man in Viet Nam. As a senior officer, he served with the Big Red One in Iraq as part of Desert Storm. For that alone he has my undying respect.

Upon retirement John returned to our hometown. His wife said he wanted to retire with me. I really do not know whether that is the complete truth, but I take it as a supreme compliment. I'm sorry that I cannot develop a love of golf that he has. I have enjoyed the comraderie of our times on the links, but since I'm such a sorry golfer, I have given up the game. I have noted above that he is a better athlete (and competitor) than I am. I hope he will forgive me.

I have other regrets in our friendship. I regret that I thought I was in love with a young English girl in college and went to England following our senior year in college and missed his wedding. I traveled six thousand miles to get shot down, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I later met my wonderful wife, now of almost thirty eight years. John and his wife attended our wedding. I regret that I jumped out of bed one morning to go to an emergency C-Section, only to have my back go out on me. I had to call partners to cover the C-Section, but more regrettably, I had to miss the wedding of John's son that weekend. It seems that he has always been there for me, but the reverse has not always been true.

We were there with him when his wife underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor. We will be with them as she undergoes radiation therapy for a recurrence of the tumor. They just learned of the recurrence the day they came to join us at the beach. They and we are optimistic about her prognosis. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers, and wish we could do more.

John has a good income from his military retirement pay. He has two wonderful children and a new grandchild whom he loves to visit. He loves to travel and go RV'ing. He does not need to work. But, when his home church lost it's associate pastor and needed a part-time associate, John agreed to a 20-hour a week committment to the church. This has evolved into a pretty much full time job for part-time pay. He does not complain. He continues to serve his church and his community, and that is why he left the beach today. With all that he has going on in his personal life at this time he still felt a duty to his church to complete a task that he had started, although someone else could have filled in for him for a single meeting. That is the kind of person he is, and that is why I love him, and why I have the honor of calling him my best friend.

Do you have such a best friend. I hope so.


Blogger ptwannabe said...

Best friends are special, true. Even more special is to be able to recount the special times and memories that make you recognize how important that person is and always will be.
I, too, have missed out on major events that have occured in my friends lives...which is a constant source of stress and disappointment in myself...even when I recognize that many of the things preventing me from participating in such events were beyond my control. Unfortunately, I have missed important weddings...I have missed the funerals of my best friends' parents...which, sadly, have grown in number since high school...and I have not kept up with many as I wish I could. But, it happens as we age and become more self involved with focus on careers and families. I, however, do not doubt for a second that these things take away from the experiences that I have shared or the friendships I have forged in my 28 years of life.
True friendship is not based on numbers...on day to day correspondance...or on mistakes made. It is based on trust, love, support, and understanding...and we should all feel blessed to have a best friend that knows us and loves us for who we are...our finer qualities and our flaws.
I enjoyed sharing your memories of John...learning things about you two that I did not know. I am glad you have each other...and I have only respect for you both. You should both feel blessed for your achievements...friendship...and families...and look back on all that you both have done...and all that you have added to others in your lives. Thank you for the stories......

March 08, 2006  

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