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Young, Black and Alive

A friend I grew up with died last week.

Me and the crew knew this guy for years. He lived around the corner. He was quiet and reserved, even though he was probably one of the most athletic and intimidating-looking guys if you were opposite of him on a football field or on the wrestling mat. He followed that path of strength and bravery into the U.S. military, and there he inspired other people beyond the borders of our small, sleepy town. 

I immediately think of senior awards night in 2000, when he called me Lauryn Hill, because as Hill swept the Grammys that year, I raked in scholarships and accolades in preparation for my college life, which prepared me for the life I’m living now. He told me he was proud of me. To see a sista no less, be honored and have to walk to the podium multiple times that evening, it was a highlight, he said. He was not at the top of the class in studies, but he always had insight. As me and my friends swap stories, I found that he stood up for people using his common sense through humbling, thoughtful words when he could have handily whooped ass. I guess coming from him, it had such impact, the bullies would back down.

He was at my sweet sixteen– handsome and physically looking way too mature for his age, his muscular frame his facial hair, a cool, and natural relaxed confidence his peers couldn’t quite master just yet, but were aching to. 

My father even asked me who the grown looking young man was. I had to assure him he was 16 too.  He was in the circle of friends who shared limos for junior cotillion and senior prom. Basement parties and bbqs he held up the wall with the cute boys, well-dressed and popular, but still pleasant and accessible. He cheered us on as we achieved success. We saw him become a devoted father and husband over the years. And it looked good on him. His life milestones reminded us single, childless friends of what was to come.

But now I can see the reason why our friend had the job of being a parent and husband as soon as he did. His life would be short and that family would be his joy and inspiration until the end. They needed him and he needed them.

Now, he goes before us into something unknown again. He reminds us of what’s to come and to embrace what we’ve got in the time between. 

As a grown man, he served his country, taking many trips to the battle field in the Middle East. He had a wife and two children who he wanted the best of everything for. Cancer took him far too soon. I can say that I’m glad he is no longer suffering, and I don’t want him to, but I wish he had more time, I wish he had more time to be healthy and be there for his boys to teach them lessons only a good dad can. So all I can do now is pray for his family.

I told a dear friend of mine that this was the kind of man people needed to see out in front. Someone of strong will and spirit and values. He knew how to be loyal, he knew how to stick to his values and do what was right even if it was of great inconvenience to himself. No one is perfect, and people tend to romanticize folks when they’ve passed on. So I don’t know what his grand faults were-he had plenty, I’m sure- but as I knew him, he was good people. Period.

So I’m going to the funeral this week with a heavy heart. I will be surrounded by my closest friends and we’ll mourn together. I even demanded that later that evening we celebrate together the fact we are “Young, black and alive.” We’ll count our blessings, and we’ll allow ourselves the opportunity to say the things we usually don’t to each other because we take for granted it’s understood. But after seeing our young friend laid to rest, the words will come so naturally and so easily for me anyway.

“I love you.”

“I admire you.”

“Thank you.”

Now, I think around last year I’ve been on a kick about saying these things to the people in my life, and this situation brings it home even more.

Rest my friend.

The Friend Test

I’ve made friends all kinds of ways.

In the earliest of times, it was as easy as saying: “Hello, want some Skittles?”

Sometimes it was due to an agreement that an injustice had taken place. “She didn’t share her skip it on the playground.” “Yeah, not cool.” “Wanna play at my house after school?” “Sure, just gotta ask my mom.”

Sometimes friendships were born out of group science projects, or after standing up for someone who was being picked on, or just asking a sad person if they were ok.

Some of my friendships were forced arranged situations, like college roommates or some grew out of natural rivalries to be the best at a campus newspaper.

Sometimes if you’ve smiled enough at someone you keep running into on the way to the bathroom at work, you decide to have lunch one day and the hour turns into two. OOPS!

I’ve even made some friends through writing this blog.

But what’s the DNA of friendships? How do we really build relationships with people? And how do these relationships sometimes fall apart and stay apart?

We are told all of the time when on the carousel of friends some folks are a reason, a season and a lifetime.

But I guess the friend-making, relationship-building process always comes down to the same thing.

Attendance. I have friends who live all over the place. I may not speak to them all the time, but my closest friends have spent significant amounts of lab hours with me, practicing friendship. These things consist of hanging out, talking on the phone, traveling, etc. The best way to get to know someone is through spending time.

Some of my fondest friend memories are often me and the friend sharing a meal, laughing or doing something absolutely stupid together. We weren’t anyplace fancy, it’s usually a lazy day talking about nothing and everything.

Listening. Good friends listen. And listen, and listen some more. And listen even if they are tired and don’t feel like it. Sometimes if you have a friend who isn’t a great communicator, you have to work even harder to listen to them when they do share or have something to say.

The voluntary gesture. Actions mean a lot to me. When new friends think of me and show up to something I invited them to, or brought me a favorite candy or offer to take me to the airport, it’s like daum. You really like me and want to be my friend. You went out of your way to do this or that when you really didn’t have to.

Trying new things. Trying new things with new friends can create bonds and memories and trying new things with old friends can breathe new life into the relationship. You may expose fears and or talents that you never knew the person or you had. When you try new things sometimes, you switch personality traits. If you are loud and bossy, you may become quiet and standoffish while your quiet friend may become the leader or the teacher in the moment to pull you through and cheer you on. I’ve seen this happen and it’s a very cool thing.

Reliability. “No, for real. I need a ride to the airport. And the flight is at six a.m. on a Saturday. Yes.” That friend may cuss you the whole way to the airport, but you are at your gate by 5:15, which means they picked you up around 4. Which means they woke up at 3:30 or earlier.

The reliable folks in your life show their gargantuan capacity to love you by doing things like that. These are the people you see through tears in the church as you walk through a funeral procession. They drove all night, but they are there.

There’s a song by Jill Scott called, “Calls” it’s divine. She sings so sweetly, “You always answer my calls when I call, you come.” Let’s face it. The true homies come when you call, and they feel a tingle when you are in need and come anyway if you don’t call. Those are the keepers and those are the ones you want to keep listening to, doing voluntary gestures for and showing up for (Hey, I’ve included the other bolded topics in this bolded topic! Reliability must be huge to me). There aren’t a lot of these people. They are the special ones you treasure.

In a world full of people who do more talking than ever, the reliable people who keep their word are rare.

Admiration. If you can’t name one or two things that you admire about your friends, you ain’t friends. I have some friends where we have straight up love fests about how much we like different things about each other. You don’t have to do that, but even internally, can you look at that friend and say, I really love x quality about them. Wow. No one does this the way so and so does and I’m proud of them as a human being. Andy and Ollie always take it too far on Bob’s Burgers (love that show) but you get the point.

Vulnerability. Can you trust this person? Can you say how you feel? Can this person trust you and tell you how they feel? I’ve mentioned in this blog before that vulnerability is awesome, but it’s something that has to be protected and shared with people who have proven themselves. I’ve also said in real life and in this blog that certain friends have to have certain security clearances when it comes to your thoughts, feelings and emotions and your past. And if you know the weaknesses of your friends, you can save yourself the heartache and disappointment of not going to the wrong one for support on certain issues. Some friends are stronger with business and financial advice. Others are nurturers. Some friends are good at giving the cold splash of reality, while others may take a more optimistic approach and they are good at encouraging you to take risks.

And lastly,

Consistency.  In my world, the people who are consistently themselves and are comfortable with themselves are the ones who end up being the absolute coolest with me. Their courage to be themselves inspires me to accept myself more. And when I praise my friends for their individuality and their gifts, I think it fuels them even more. I know it boosts me when they do that for me. They may grow, they may have bad days or an attitude, but the root of who they are and what they value (core things) and what they believe in DOES NOT CHANGE. These friends may change a job, a hairstyle or city in which they live, and maybe they’ve become vegan, but their general feelings on family, friends, work ethic and respect should be non-negotiable. Consistent attendance, consistent listening, and well, being reliable contributes to being consistent. I have some friends I speak to on the phone. Some via strictly text and some friends I see. Consistent doesn’t mean you have to do these things everyday, but you and your friends have a rhythm. You know when it’s been too long since you’ve spoken and you may drop an are you alive email or text and the person responds right away, or by the end of the day. Consistency to me means understanding the patterns in your relationships with people and sticking with that.

Be a damn, good friend. Damn it.


Confessions of A Mushball


My older gentleman friend has a term called a “mushball.” He informed me a long time ago that while he can be very nice, and kind, he by no means is a “mushball.”
Meaning he won’t be manipulated or taken advantage of, and is not afraid to speak up.

Well, I on the other hand, have been struggling with my mushballness over the years.

One area where it seems I can’t shake it is with the long time friend who have had numerous fallings out with. It’s well-documented on this blog how I’ve struggled with this relationship and after I sent her an email about life being too short and that while I recognize our relationship may not be as close as we once were, I still love her and want only the best for her.

She agreed.

Her birthday is this month, and somehow in all my mushyness, as a gift, she and I will be going rock climbing.

I kind of see a symbolism in choosing this adventure as my birthday gift to her.

Rock climbing takes patience, determination, concentration, and trust in the person below holding that rope. You see a goal at the top, it’s not going to be easy. You may slip, or fall, or have to start all over again, but you know it’s worth it when you get to the top and look down at where you started. There, you see what you’re really made of.

Some friendships are the same way.

I know. I go from one extreme to another. I was going off on how selfish she could be in other posts, but I did mention that for some reason of all the people in the world, I wouldn’t necessarily recant my negative statements about her, but I would eventually swing back to the other side of the pendulum.

I think we’ve missed each other because now she wants me to travel with her next year on the great journeys she plans to take. I’d actually like that. As much as we may get on each other’s nerves, we actually can travel together.

So I confess, I’m a mushball. For certain people in my life, my heart allows second, fourth and eighth chances.

I hope that this time around, we understand each other better, and she understands how to better navigate my sensibilities, whether she gets it or not.

Here we go again.

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