Smithfield: Opinion

In death, a lesson in friendship

Over the years, I have tried to explain to my daughter that most of the people she calls friends are actually acquaintances, because friends are much more than people you eat lunch with in the cafeteria.

In high school, my daughter would refer to someone as a friend, and I would say that could not possibly be so because I had never heard of that person and that person had never been to our house.

That was, I concede, a rather weak definition of friend, but “friend” can be hard to explain to a teenager. An Internet search turns up some definitions I like: I’m secretly terrified of dying, but I would risk my life to save one of my friends, anytime. And this one: True friendship isn’t about being inseparable; it’s about being separated and nothing changes.

Other online definitions are nothing more than platitudes: A best friend is like a four-leaf clover – hard to find and lucky to have. Or: A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the best things you can be. Those sayings are true but also trite.

The occasion of my father’s death served up the best example of friendship I have ever witnessed, and my family was the beneficiary.

My father died at 1:15 p.m. on Nov. 9. About half an hour later, I called my best friend to let him know; the day before, he had booked a flight from Phoenix to Raleigh-Durham because he wanted to be with my family in our time of sorrow. But in addition to letting him know that my father had died, I now needed a favor; I needed to know if he would pick my daughter up from college and bring her to Stokes County for the funeral. Of course he would, he said.

What follows next is his rough itinerary:

That Sunday, an 11:30 p.m. flight from Phoenix landed him at New York City’s JFK Airport at 6 the next morning before depositing him at RDU about four hours later. At RDU, he picked up a rental car and drove the more than five hours to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Once there, he collected my daughter and brought her the more than three hours back to Stokes County. Total trip time, air and ground, about 19 hours. If he slept at all, it was on the flight from Phoenix to JFK.

Three days later, he drove my daughter back to Western.

I am humbled that someone thinks enough of me and my family to make that sacrifice, and we are forever in his debt. My friend did accept gas money but only after my big brother threatened him with bodily harm if he refused.

I knew when I called that Sunday afternoon that my best friend would say yes. When someone has been your best friend for 47 years, you know the answer to the question before you ask it.

But now my daughter knows what true friendship is.

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