Tuesday, September 14, 2004

LA Stories (Part IV)

Friends (continued)
Note: Wow…this series, and this part of the story in particular, is really taking on a life of its own. I’m adding this bit of pretext at the point that I’m realizing that just what I have to say about my friends, which was originally planned to be just a single entry, will now be at least three, and probably four. As a result, I’ll be going back and numbering the “Friends” sections once I figure out how many there will end up being. I just wanted to explain in advance that the navigation and story links will be changing so as to avoid any confusion…

Now I really don’t mean to brag, but a few days ago, I just had to chuckle. The Holy PUN-tiff of Blogsville, Michael, posted a very funny, self-deprecating lament on the “support” (or lack thereof) by some of his friends. Seemed that some of Mike’s buds like to remind him of some of the less-than-complimentary feats of his younger days. It’s a classic theme, and Michael is certainly not to be singled out. After all, friends don’t let friends forget the times they’ve made a fool of themselves.

I won’t claim to have not gone through my share of that with plenty of my friends over the years, but it struck me as I read Michael’s story, just what a contrast in that regard one particular friend of mine has always been. She was one of the quality people I had a chance to spend some time with in California.

She was “everybody’s girlfriend,” as somebody once playfully dubbed her back in my high school/college age church youth group. She was a couple years older, and easily the coolest chick I’d ever met; witty, intellectual, and streetwise. She seemed to know everyone, and everything that was hip and important. As you might guess from such a description, she was also extremely self-confident. Her persona was absolutely magnetic. To me, that was her most attractive attribute. Cindy never seemed to “try” to be beautiful, as beauty is judged by the world — she didn’t have to — she had a natural beauty that the world doesn’t even have the ability to measure.

As to the aforementioned moniker, Cindy was the type of girl you could hang with, go to a movie, and go to dinner with — any type of social event — without the trappings of it being any kind of “date.” She was completely non-threatening to the other girls in our group. Cindy was never gossip material, because everybody knew exactly what she was about. Cindy was sold out to The Lord. And if there was anything at all that could ever be considered intimidating about her, it was the depth of her commitment to God.

Cindy was no “Jesus Freak” either. There was absolutely nothing freaky about her. She was real. She wasn’t judgmental or critical. She didn’t look down on people — she loved them. As a matter of fact I can’t remember hearing her ever say a disparaging word about anyone. She walked the walk, and has always been one of the people I’ve looked upon as the truest example of what those who call themselves Christians should be.

Michael’s story detailed the tendency we all have to disparage others — even good-naturedly — for no other reason but to make ourselves look better. Not that this is such a horrible thing when the person on the receiving end knows it’s being done in innocent fun. But as I said earlier, it just made me think about the incredible contrast in the common behavior Cindy displayed.

Cindy featured a rare quality. Instead of constantly talking about herself, or endeavoring to tell people what was wrong with them, she went out of her way to remind a person of what is right about them. She would always bring up something you do, or did in the past that cast you in a positive light. The cynical person might call it “sucking up,” but I don’t see it that way. The only payback she ever got was the fact that it just made everybody love her all the more. And what better or more deserving reward is there than that?

I’m not really sure when I became aware of her little motis operandi, but when I did, I remember watching to see how she applied it in relation to other people. I noticed that Cindy’s ploy wasn’t limited just to the guys who loved to hang out with her, but the girls as well.

It had to be a conscious effort. Somewhere in the conversation, Cindy would find a way to direct things to the subject of some event in the other person’s life, usually highlighted by an act, an attitude, or a talent that the person displayed, which was admirable or positive. I liked to watch the eyes of the person receiving the complement, to see their reaction. I have never discussed this with her, so I’m sure that she was never aware of my pointed observations. Almost without exception, Cindy’s targets of unsolicited praise would look down and smile in embarrassment, but when they looked up you could see their countenance rise to a new level. As the McKenzie brothers would say, “beauty, eh?”

There is no way I could ever be as selfless a friend as Cindy was and is, but she was my role model for what a friend should be. Funny, but as I’m writing this I’m realizing that I’ve never told her that. I need to do that soon.

Making up for lost time
As I’ve mentioned before, this recent trip to the Left Coast was my second this spring/summer. Michelle accompanied me in early May, when we spent eight days reacquainting ourselves with some of the favorite spots we used to enjoy during the 20+ years we lived in SoCal. The trip was a belated second honeymoon to celebrate or 25th wedding anniversary in March. We traveled up and down the coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara. It was a wonderful time. We saw a few friends and spent the better part of one day with my Dad and Helen, but the biggest emphasis was on spending time together doing things we used to like to do. It was Michelle’s first trip to California since we moved to Nashville at the end of 1991.

Although I knew I was coming back in August, it had been over six years since I’d seen Cindy and a number of other friends from the old crowd. So I asked one of my old roommates if he could arrange a get-together for a few of us to meet at one time. He gathered a few people together at his home in Dana Point, CA for a barbecue. I was disappointed that one friend, who I really wanted to see didn’t make it. Apparently he and my old roomie have had a falling out over the years, and they just aren’t a part of each other’s lives. But Cindy was there, as I knew she would be.

As we sat at the table outside eating, I waited to see if she would start working the crowd. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t seen everyone in quite awhile. Only two of the people at the gathering were in regular contact with anyone else in the group, so it was a reunion of sorts for most everyone.

Sure enough Cindy began sizing up her victims, and the “remember when” engine started up full-throttle. First one person, then another was swept up in Cindy’s casual web of complements and kudos. No one could escape!

With me it has always been about my success in gymnastics or my career in the music industry. Another guy used to have popular local rock band. On yet another guy, she bragged on what a successful businessman he had become, all the while supporting something like eight kids or some ridiculously high number. To Michelle, Cindy marveled at what a great job she had done raising our two kids — and putting up with me for the past 25 years.

Cindy hadn’t changed a bit. Thank god.

My inside connection
While at the barbecue, Cindy looked over to me and Michelle, smiled and said, “You guys wouldn’t happen to have time to take in an Angels game while you’re here, would’ja? Because, you know my Mom has season tickets…

My heart dropped to the freakin’ floor. I had really wanted to figure out a way to take my Dad to a game on that trip, but expected that I’d have to make arrangements to buy the tickets myself (which I was perfectly willing to do). However the way things shook out, itinerary-wise, we just couldn’t make it work.

“You really know how to hurt a guy, don’t you,” I thought to myself. Cindy knew that I was an Angels fan, and the offer was legit, I just wish I’d known about it sooner.

I thanked her profusely for the offer, but said we just couldn’t fit it into our already-booked schedule that week. I did tell her that I’d certainly take a rain check in August though. “You got it! Just let me know when you’re gonna be here,” she said.

Fast-forward to my recent trip. Not only did Cindy secure tickets to the Sunday game that week, which I attended with her, I had mentioned the fact that I wanted to take my Dad to a game also, and she came up with tickets for the Wednesday game as well. When I asked how much I owed her, she said emphatically, “There is NO WAY you’re paying for any of these tickets!”

The game with my Dad I’ve already talked about. The Halos won in a rout. On Sunday, it was a pitcher’s duel, with the lead changing hands twice during the game, but ending up tied in the bottom of the ninth inning. Again the Angels prevailed on Adam Kennedy’s game ending home run. The great times and great memories that those two games provided me were courtesy of Cindy. Additionally, throughout the afternoon we discussed a number of important subjects, not the least of which was the aforementioned feud between my old roommate (who we’ll refer to as Dee) and another good friend of mine who chose not to attend the barbecue in May because of it (who we’ll refer to as Bee). I’ll be talking more about Bee in the next entry.

Me and my friend Cindy at the Anaheim Angels game on Sunday. GOTS'TA wear red at an Angels game. Great seats...great time!

I don't think I would go so far as to say that Cindy was ever my very best friend, but she's certainly high on my all-time list. She would probably be quite surprised to know that I consider her a mentor of friendship. And along with being unassuming, she is the most guileless and genuine person I’ve ever known — of that I’m certain. She is one of a handful of people who I can’t go too long without seeing, just because of the way she refreshes me, without obligation, without expectation of anything else in return. And in so doing, she inspires me to try to be that kind of friend to others.

In my opinion, that’s what friendship is about, inspiring you to be a better person, to be more than you are on your own.

Thanks, Cindy…

Next: Friends (continued)
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