“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” (Woodrow Wilson)
Twenty-nine years ago I was unemployed. The country was going through a recession, and the company I’d joined immediately out of college had closed the office where I worked and moved it to California. I didn’t want to follow that job, so I accepted a severance package.
We were a smaller family then, just one child and one on the way. It was a very stressful summer filled with interviews, reading the want ads, and talking with recruiters. By late August I was getting more desperate, when an offer to move out of state came along. Until that time everyone in my family and my wife’s family lived within about 12 miles of each other. To move 180 miles away seemed very scary. After a lot of discussion and soul-searching, I took the job and we moved to Michigan.
That first year was difficult. We made almost-monthly trips back to Cleveland to visit family and to attend events and holidays. Each time we visited, either my wife or I would end up shedding a few tears in the car on the return trip, the ache of the move was still present.
About a year after we moved, two important things happened. A childhood friend of mine got out of the Air Force and moved to our area, and we joined the Mom and Dad’s Club at our church. Those two things forever changed our outlook on living here.
Until then we’d made very few acquaintances, and no real, lasting friends. With an infant and toddler, and no car at home, my wife was very limited in who she could get out and meet. I was working a lot of hours, and while the people I worked with were nice, there weren’t any truly great bonds forming.
Since then we have been very blessed. We have been fortunate enough to build a great network of very caring, thoughtful, loving friends. We think of many of these friends as extended family. Our children have grown up with these friends so close by that they think of their children in the way that many would regard close cousins, or even extended siblings. With these friends we have attended Baptisms, birthday parties, first Communions, weddings, and sadly even funerals. Not a day goes by that I do not have contact with one or many of them. When they celebrate, we celebrate. When they cry, we cry with them.
Recently, one of the men we met in that summer 28 years ago, passed away from cancer. His death was shocking and sudden. There wasn’t a protracted illness, we just one day received word that he’d passed. His children had been our babysitters over twenty years ago, and our families had spent quite a lot of time together over the years. When my wife and I learned of his passing, we both felt as though someone had kicked us in the gut. In the days after it took me a while to really understand how hurt I was from his passing. In so many ways it was like losing a relative.
Last Saturday night, one week to the day from his passing, another couple and my wife and I had decided to go to a favorite watering hole of his to toast him. His widow and children found out about us being there, and quickly joined us. Later, another friend who has moved away in the ensuing years, also came up. What started out as a single drink to toast our friend, ended up with 11 of us closing the bar. Had it been a planned event rather than spontaneous, as many as a hundred might have come to join us. It was a boisterous gathering, just as he’d have wanted it. In the midst of it all were some great conversations, a lot of memory sharing, and a few very funny stories. I sat and talked to his wife, then later to his daughter, and I spent time catching up with the friend who had moved away.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, as my wife was driving us home I felt, at the same time, great sadness and joy. I felt the sadness of the loss of a friend with whom I will never spend the kind of time I did that night. But, I also felt the joy of knowing that this network of friends that we have is unimaginably strong, and will sustain me, my wife, and our children for decades to come. For the first time in a long time I took the opportunity to reflect on that move 29 years ago, and all of the wonders in my life that came from us making that fateful decision.
Friendship most definitely is the cement that holds my world together. Had we never made the extensive network of friends that we have, we would never have stayed here. Within another year or two, we’d have packed up our boxes, rented a truck, and moved back. In the years since, I have been approached a couple of times about jobs that are out of state, and farther from our childhood home. I have even been on interviews and been recruited by the companies. Each time I came back shaking my head. My wife and I would sit for long hours and discuss, but one of the factors that always made us say no was that we did not want to leave our friends.
I don’t know what twists and turns life will present for me in the coming years. There are always bumps in the road, and obstacles so big that it seems I’ll never see over them. But I know that I do not face those obstacles alone. Along with my family, I have a set of friends whom I treasure deeply, and who I know will always be there for me, and I for them. Armed with that knowledge, I feel confident that I can handle whatever comes my way.
I don’t know the context of Wilson’s comments in this particular quote. I know that he worked tirelessly to build friendships among nations to try to avert the horror of World War I from ever being repeated. He had a vision of countries working with rather than against one another. Sadly, his vision is yet to be globally realized. But, his words here are important for all of us. It is grandiose to imagine a world where friendships between nations are the cement of the planet. But it is far more important to realize the power that strong friendship bring to each of us on a daily basis.
Today I implore you to spend some time working on your friendships. Reach out to a friend with whom you’ve temporarily lost contact. Use social media for something other than sharing a joke or life observation, and reconnect with a friend. Tell your closest friends how much you care about them and love them. Make sure that the cement of friendship in your life stays tight and strong. The benefits in your life will be immeasurable.