Friendship

I’ve been thinking of friends. The gift and wonder of those particular friends who show up in your life unexpected and unplanned. Friends who in some mysterious way just by their presence along the way have shaped who you are and who you have become. Those friends who changed you not necessarily because of what you did with them, but just because of who they are. 

Wes was one of those friends, one of those wonderful friends I was so blessed to have part of my life. When Wes’s wife Marcia called me a few weeks ago to tell me Wes had died and to invite me to say a few words at his memorial service, I, who have spent my life using words, found myself speechless. How do you even find words, how do you even speak of what a friend means in your life? 

As I pondered how to possibly find words to share to speak of my friend Wes, I found myself drawn to what is beyond words and says it so much clearer – pictures, music, stories, memory. 

For me, memories that began of me as a 27 year old young man who had recently moved to Chicago with his partner Dave. That winter we met Marcia and Wes at church. 

What a surprise it is of these people who somehow show up in our lives. Why of all these people who come in and out of our lives have made these particular people our friends? Perhaps they were just the friends we needed, the kind of friends we didn’t even know we were looking for.    

The late 1980’s, early 90’s in Chicago were a challenging time, a hard time. Here we were in a strange new city far from family and friends. It was our first time living together, Dave in social work school, I the director of a community AIDS organization in Evanston. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic and with it so much loss and fear, anxiety and uncertainty. A time of missing the stability and comfort of the lives we once had, wondering if we would ever get them back. A time perhaps not that different from this time. 

Amidst that challenging and growing time, Marcia and Wes recalled us to the gift of ordinary time. The gift of evening card games and puzzles, laughter and play, to wonderful meals around their dining room table.  

In the years to come, as our friendship grew, there were hard and disappointing times, uncertain times when we wondered if and how we would live into our dreams and doubt if we ever could. In the midst, there were our friends Marcia and Wes with us and for us along the way, recalling us to the gift of this present moment and time. Recalling us to wonder and joy, to puzzles and pranks, to life. 

Yes, there were joyous times as well. Dave and I celebrated our commitment service at St. Pauls Church where I sat with them in the pew each Sunday and Dave sang in the choir. Marcia and Wes hosted our families after the service back at their home. They were those kind of friends.

When we moved away, our friendship moved with us. Yes, it was different but every time we got together we were right back at it like no time had passed.  

It’s now many decades later and life has been full of joy and blessings, yes, thanks be. And yes, of loss and grief, of disconnection and dislocation as this is the way of life as well. The kind of lost and wordless times it is hard to find words to make your way out of.

And then, the gift of words that finally come. An email, a phone call, “Hi, I’m coming to the city and would love to see you.” And the friendship was right there; it of course had never left.  

It was a few months ago that I last had the chance to talk with Wes. He was at the nursing home and that day, a good day. We talked of ordinary things and as our time drew to say goodbye, the words that were always there and had never left, I love you, Wes.  

When Marcia called to tell me Wes had died and when the memorial service was planned, the words came right away as well, I’ll be there. No question, no doubt, no second guessing or second thoughts. Maybe I’d learned the cost of not being there at such times when I could have. Maybe the words for where I needed to be were just given, quick and clear. I’ll see you soon.

Yes, so glad I was there last weekend. Such a privilege, such a gift to just be a friend who is there with a friend in times like this. 

As I look back on last Saturday afternoon, and remember the faces of Wes’s friends in the sanctuary I give thanks again for the gift of Wes and what we experienced and shared that day in memories and music, pictures and the words that finally found us,  

We love you, Wes.

We miss you.

We thank you for being our friend.

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