Keeping friends

They are the last words from the 1986 film, “Stand By Me.” They make up the best movie-ending line ever: 

“I never had friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” 

I always believed that last sentence was a prayer to be answered rather than taking the Lord’s name in vain. 

When we’ve rolled with too many punches in a given day, guys like to flip back for a visit with the old gang. Maybe gals do as well. But they don’t talk about them like the guys do. 

If you want an old curmudgeon’s eyes to light up, just ask him about his best friend when he was 12. He won’t remember what you said five minutes ago, but he’ll be able to tell you all about a kid forever frozen young playing shortstop on a sandlot somewhere in time. And he’ll do it with a smile. 

In my mother’s family album there’s a picture of me with my old buddy, Ed, looking like we decided that we were smarter than everybody else. We were about 16 by then, friends for life, though we’d really only be close for another two years. 

Stephen King, in his novella “The Body” that became “Stand By Me,” explained that: “It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant.” 

Leaving the old hometown, college, jobs, girlfriends — they all conspire to make a mess of childhood friendships. Pretty soon, you find yourself too embarrassed, or just too old, to do anything about it. 

But I’ve always believed that friendships help to carry us through and are more important than we realize. That holds true, even as we get older. Sure, many of our friendships as the years go by seem to stretch the definition. “Yeah, he’s a friend of mine” you say when somebody raises a name. Then you realize you haven’t seen him in six months. The only way you would go six months without seeing a buddy in your childhood is if he moved to Iowa. 

Time was different when you were a kid — six years was half your life when you were 12. Six years as a grown-up is sometimes just six more years commuting to the job. But friends are still helping to carry us through, and most of us come to understand that friendship is one of God’s tender mercies in our lives. 

My good friend and I suffer through Pirates games and three-hour business meetings together. He’s 10 years my senior, but doesn’t look it. Perhaps because he has a vegetarian diet and a healthy outlook. I have neither. 

It is hard sometimes to describe the glue that holds friendship together. My buddy and I have a lot in common, but less in common. He’s tall and I’m short. He has his beets and beans; I have burgers and fries. He’s a radio guy and I’m a print guy. He’s a priest and I’m not. 

But we are friends, and that’s enough. 

He made the mistake of going to the doctor when he wanted to gin up the exercise schedule. It was a recent Friday. By Monday he was in the hospital for more blockages than the New York Giants’ offensive line. 

Receiving the Sacrament of the Sick the night before, he went under in the early morning for bypass surgery. 

“Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of the faithful will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15). 

The Lord raised him up. Before you know it, he will be on his feet grouching at the Pirates. 

Maybe you never have friends again like you had when you were 12. But the good Lord doesn’t stop sending them. Because friends help to carry us through. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.