Early Saturday morning when I arrived in Gainesville, my friend Scott was waiting for me with a Starbuck's Caramel Macchiato and huge hug. Although he probably had other things to do, he spent the day in the bookstore with me laughing and people watching. We weren't necessarily laughing at people, but some of those diehard Gator fans were really special. I'm just saying...
At 12:21 when the Gators were about to kickoff against Vanderbilt, I just knew Scott would abandon me, but he offered to buy me lunch and we spent the next few hours laughing some more over deep dish pizza and strawberry beignets.
It wasn't all laughter, though, because after lunch we drove to the gravesite of our friend Mimi McLendon who died of lung cancer earlier this year. Mimi was only 44 and never smoked a day in her life. As we lay pink roses on Mimi's grave, we talked about how tomorrow is not promised and how important it is to tell the people in our lives how much we love them while we have them.
"It takes a long time to grow an old friend."
When I arrived back in Daytona, I had just enough time to take a shower and change before heading off to my 20th class reunion. When I walked into the hotel, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my classmates who attended Bethune-Cookman with me two decades ago. Although at first I could not remember all of the names, I remembered the faces, but more importantly I remembered the times we had shared together in the past. Here we were healthy and happy and living our dreams that we had only begun to visualize as bright-eyed college graduates twenty years ago. Each of us had walked across the stage at Commencement promising to uphold the legacy of our school's founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. We did not take the school's motto "Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve" lightly and each of us has committed ourselves in one way or another to being what our classmate Kelvin described as "a bridge for those who come behind us."
The love and respect in the room was palpable and I left feeling so grateful that God placed me at that little school all those years ago and allowed me to make friends with such amazing men and women. I left knowing that the bonds of friendship would only grow stronger as time passed.
When we were in school together, Dr. Oswald P. Bronson was the president and he always addressed the students and faculty with two words..."My Friends"... I don't think he realized the power of what he was saying. Those two little words told us that we mattered; that we were seen; that we were worthy enough, loved enough, important enough to be called a friend.
"Your friend is the one who knows all about you, and still likes you."
My doorbell just rang as I am writing this. It was my new friend and neighbor Sheila. I had called her earlier and awakened her from a deep sleep. The truth was I had run out of the vitamins she had turned me onto and I wanted them right then. You see, I am an only child and at times I am spoiled and impatient and forgetful. Sheila was not mad at me and got me what I needed as soon as she could. She even gave me more than I asked for. She didn't stop loving me because I am impatient.
My friend Dee's birthday was around Labor Day and I am just getting her card in the mail. Instead of being mad at me for being forgetful, she sent me a text telling me she was craving Bahama Breeze and was going to treat herself to dinner with the gift certificate I had slipped into the card and just a few moments ago I received a phone call from my friend Winnie. She didn't call to talk because she knows I spend Sundays writing, but she wanted to share something funny with me. We laughed and then hung up. She respects that I am busy and even if two months or two years pass before we talk again we will pick up just where we left off. To me, that's friendship.
"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
If nothing else, this weekend has reminded me that I am nothing without my friends. Friends like Paula, Gina and Kender who pick me up and brush me off and push me back out there one more time. And friends like Natalie who when I get discouraged and say "I'm never going to be a famous writer," remind me of Jeremiah 29:11. And then there are those friends like Mia, Yolanda and so may others who I am just reconnecting with on Facebook. I am so happy that our paths have crossed in life.
I am grateful for those who I call and who call me "friend." This world would be a lonely, scary place if I did not have each of you with me. I love you! And for those of you who I still have yet to meet, when we encounter each other, let's smile, embrace and then say with affection: "My friend!"