The Gift of Friendship
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Once you’ve encountered true friendship how does one go about recreating similar relationships? How does one keep from resenting others or becoming bitter when other friendships don’t add up or worst fail? Is it even possible to add and manage additional friendships and how many friends can one person manage anyway? Life is full of, let’s call it fear, that the best moments and relationships are in the past.
Arriving in Fort Worth I was certain I would never know friends like those I had left in Chicago. I never would because of age, place, and time. There’s so much a fifteen-year-old can’t know about the world. The search for true friendship would set the stage for something great in my life, and I hope the lives of others.
We arrived in Texas on August 15, 1985. It was 105 degrees when I opened the door at the Holiday Inn South on interstate 35 and I was immediately angry. We drove over to our home which my parents would close on in just a couple of days. I found everything wrong I could with the house. I was making it hard on my parents and I would continue to do this for the better part of a year and a half. I used outright rebellion.
I started my sophomore year just a few weeks later. At school and church, I had a new experience. No one knew me and it was a chance to start fresh. I would quickly change to contacts and lose the dark glasses. I would choose more modern style clothes and I got a better haircut.
I had no history, so I was not relegated to a group, and I wasn’t the dweeby kid of my late middle school and freshman year. I would build a network of acquaintances over the next year. No close friends, but people who were very different. I had a few of the jocks who liked to hang out with me for some reason, a few stoners who somehow thought I was chill, and I dressed a little preppy, so it seemed to get me some access to various social circles and some party invitations.
First Baptist Church in Crowley, Texas became our new church, and the youth and youth pastor were kind people. Unlike Chicago, almost everyone at church went to the same school so there was frequent interaction.
Relationships were simply social for most of high school and college. I think this may be true for most people. I was more concerned with dating in those years and by the time my senior year came around I had met Danae LeMond who I would marry six years later. Marriage was on our radar early on, even though we had much yet to figure out in life.
By college I had shed the social friendships from high school and only hung out with a few friends and not very often. Church continued to provide a funnel of people in and out of my circles.
Danae and I married in June of 1993 and there was something new in our lives, “couple friends”. Now friends came with their spouse, and this would be the typical set up for a couple of years.
I had lost touch with my friends in Chicago over the years. A year after I left, the letters stopped coming and no one called. Each of them had set off on the inevitable of their own life experiences. The old crew was now divided across the country.
By 1995 I thought frequently about my early friendships, and I had a desire to recreate them if it were at all possible. The example Tim had set never left me.
I invited David Rutherford to go on a long weekend adventure at the end of May with me to Lincoln National Forrest in New Mexico to camp and hike. He accepted.
David and his wife were one of our couple friends and we spent much time with them as we went to the same church and lived in the same apartment complex.
David would become another important individual in my life and in the stories of my friendships. Our trip to New Mexico would be the catalyst I was looking for to build unique and treasured friendships over the next three decades.
David and I at a Few May Club Trips
I was working in radio in Dallas and didn’t get off until late, so David said he would pick me up and we would make the trip to New Mexico through the night.
We drove through the dark with the radio blasting and turned it up and down with the conversation. Often, we rolled down the windows and I felt free from work and was glad to have a weekend break. David was even more excited to get away because he had a young daughter at home. We were escaping our lives for a moment and were escaping together.
We arrived south of Cloudcroft, New Mexico around 5 am and we drove his Honda Civic down gravel roads hoping to find some place to pitch a tent and get a little sleep. We were nervous because we lost a tire a few hours earlier and running on a spare. We weren’t sure how well the spare was going to hold on the rough roads.
We picked a spot near some massive pine trees and set up the tent and quickly fell asleep.
We didn’t sleep long and woke up just as the sun was coming up over one of the ridges. It was beautiful. We watched the sunrise and were speechless. We got our hiking gear, water and snacks and headed out for the day. We walked and talked. Rested on occasion and sat quietly.
Returning to camp we built a fire and cooked ribs as we discussed family life, politics, and religion. Our ideas aligned.
I had found another close friend again. We agreed next May we would take another trip and invite more guys to join us. We have done this successfully now for twenty-eight years and had over 100 men join us on the adventures.
I realized by the second year that our trip in May was a way to build experiences and develop friendships. We called it, “The May Club”. Every May for five days we head out for hiking, climbing, fishing, kayaking, and countless more excursions. We generally stay in a large lodge and enjoy evenings of food, drinks, games, and laughs. I had successfully recreated camp for adults. What was amazing were the conversations that took place through all the fun. Sharing life experiences and problems with an exchange of solutions. Debating politics and faith. Creating new connections and new opportunities and simply enjoying the company of others.
Most years the trip has 25 – 40 attendees each May. A total of one hundred guys have attended over our twenty-eight years. We added a Die-Hard trip most years for the extra adventurous in the group. This may include climbing a mountain or hiking in remote places.
I was twenty-five years old on the first may Club trip with David. It was another life changing event at another time of coming of age. I was a husband and within and year and half would be a father. It was great to have a friend to confide in as I was building a career and learning to be a dad.
My friendship with David would have a season of closeness and would change as we pursued different interest. He would come to May Club most years until about 2009 when the demands of his job as church pastor would pull him from old circles. We would check in on each other on occasion and it was always easy to pick up where we left off.
David’s career as a pastor was a conflict in his mind with the way The May Club would morph over the years. As I invited more and more guys there was more drinking and revelry. He shared with me his concern about appearances as it related to his career. I greatly disagreed with his view, and I’ll share more about this later.
In 2021 David became ill and was unable to recover. He died in September. His passing is an undefinable loss for his family and his church family. He was a kind man. I never heard his voice raise even when he was angry. He encouraged all those around them and was a comforter. He was selfless and giving.
I am most saddened when I reflect on him never being able to join us on a May Club trip again. I had hopes year after year he would return. I and others would call and encourage him to join us but after 2009 he would not attend again.
I started a tradition on the May Club trips called “Toast Night”. We raise a glass to the oldest attendee, the youngest, the longest attendee, the newest, etc. The first toast always went to David who we all called, “Dabida”. We thought David in Greek was Dabida and the nick name stuck.
This year, 2022, will be the first time to toast DabiDa with him not on this side of eternity. The toast this year will hold much more emotion and reflection. It will be a formal goodbye to a friend who taught me even more about friendship and who helped me create an engine for the intentional pursuit of others.
I’ve shared about Tim and David and their powerful impacts on my life because they were the shining examples of friendships in my life. As I became more intentional in the pursuit of others, I would receive assistance from friends I never met in person. Friends who I met from their written words in the past. Individuals who long before me considered the dynamics of friendship in a way I never could without their help. Men like Aristotle, Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Thomas Aquinas.
From the examples of Tim and David, from the well-developed thoughts of the ancients, and from my own experiences I want to share some ways you might pursue others with intentionality.
I began the journey of intentionally pursuing others from a desire to recreate the incredible connections I had experienced as a kid and out of loneliness. I would learn though, the pursuit of others is less about solving your emptiness, and more about helping with theirs.
Our world is in desperate need of true friendship. The technology designed to bring us all closer together is driving us further apart. Social media is used as a soapbox which never enlightens, it generally creates anger and fractions which lead to separation from others if they think differently.
Posts show us all living the perfect life when we are fully aware of our own trials, and as our resentment grows toward those who appear to have it all together.
Other technologies create more distractions and less time in the presence of others. More and more people now take classes online, work from home, and have countless items delivered to their front door to avoid going out. It’s easy to become cloistered.
Online gaming is now a social event as you build your world or fight your enemies, but seldom will we build a deep relationship with our comrade or opponent overseas.
People are waiting longer to get married. In doing so, they delay some of the elements which mature us in our relationships with others. Career growth or self-fulfillment become the goals before making commitments.
We are a much more mobile society, making it easy to pick up and move far away from the familiar. Moves can be made with great frequency. The pandemic has made it possible for us to “work from anywhere’. A culture of vanlife has people in constant motion showing the amazing scenery through the open back doors of the van along with a picture of a perfectly made vegan taco with relationships as brief encounters.
Parents are spending more time than ever before with their children. Select sports, and endless amounts of school functions and limited vacation time have parents forgoing friendships to shuffle children about - and to avoid guilt, they attend every function.
Mother and daughter trips or father and son trips seldom happen naturally. On some occasions they may be facilitated by a church group. Sons don’t get to see their fathers laugh, talk, and drink with their friends to provide them healthy examples of companionship and fun. Boy Scouts, Indian Guides, Awanas and other clubs which brought the generations together are fading away through woke philosophies and in part, due to a failure to deal with the horrible events of child abuse by outliers.
Our social clubs are vanishing.
According to the Survey Center of American Life, the number of people who say they have no close friends has grown to 12% in 2021 from 3% in 1990. In 1990 33% of people said they had 10 or more close friends, in 2021, only 13%.
In 1990 75% of people said they had a best friend. In 2021, 59% of people reported having a best friend.
Our politics drive us further apart. 47% of Republicans report having some friends who are Democrats. Democrats report to only have 29% of friends who are Republicans.
There are several things necessary to live a full life and friendship is a key ingredient. We are all clearly made to be in relationships. We are dependent upon one another to simply survive in the world. We need others to learn. We need others to feel fulfilled. We need others to share in experiences.
There are a few blessed souls who have a large personality, great intelligence, or extreme talent where the world flocks to be with them, this is not true for most of us. And even if people flock to you, life can remain a lonely journey.
If you have at times a sense of loneliness or feel a lack of deep friendships, you are far from alone. Very few people know what to do about these feelings, or how to pursue others.
If we sit and wait for relationships to find us, we may miss out on incredible relationships, great experiences, and the opportunity to serve others. The intentional pursuit of others is a noble pursuit so much so, the ancients dwelt upon on it and provided patterns for success. We have the opportunity to elevate and care for others and in the process improve ourselves.
The process is not clinical or formulaic, it is finding a purpose and a sincerity to serve others and replicating examples from the past. We can review the relationships of King David and Jonathan, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla, as well as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Friendship begins with the intentional pursuit of others.
May Club 2008