The Most Important Lesson I Learned In College Was The Value of Friendship

After 49 years, I returned this past weekend to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I went to college. For years after graduating, I dreamed about the place. I dreamed about the people and places I loved, tests I didn’t like, professors that inspired me, and weird twists on all of these people and places. But slowly, the dreams eventually ended. New people and places began to dominate my mind.

 

Like many people of my generation, college changed me. It was a rite of passage, or the closest to such a formal initiation that we had then in our culture. It didn’t lead immediately to a job. But it did nurture my life-long interest in philosophy, psychology and history. It was where I first learned to meditate, acted in my first play, had my first poem and story published, and participated in my first (20) political demonstrations.

 

It was on a school-arranged trip that I first flew to Europe, or first flew on any airplane anywhere.

 

It was also where I met 2 life-long friends, Al and Mark. For the last 41 years we have celebrated Thanksgiving together despite living in different cities. This year will be the 42nd.

 

And this year we decided to do it differently. We would first fly to Ann Arbor the weekend before Thanksgiving, meet with some old friends, see our old haunts, and even go to a football game. I hadn’t been to a football game since 1967. Then we would fly home, and a few days later drive with our families to one of our homes to celebrate our traditional Thanksgiving.

 

One of our old college friends, Steve, came to visit us at the house the 3 of us had rented. I had seen Steve only once since graduation, maybe 15 years ago. So when he came to the door, I was surprised by the joy I felt in seeing him. We hugged with sincere affection.

 

We sat in the living room and talked for hours. Steve led it off, talking about his life, his triumphs and frights. Words had been our door to the depths of our souls and we entered through that door once again. Then I told my stories, then Al, and Mark. Even though I had heard Al and Mark’s stories before, I didn’t feel “I heard all this already.” I felt I was hearing the stories for the first time, with a new twist, or as if their stories were my own.

 

We shared not only memories, but also a way of viewing the world. And a sound track, of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, the Stones, Beetles, and Leonard Cohen. A few words from a line of this sound track would come to one of us, to explain a feeling or event, and the others would complete it…

To read the whole post, please click on this link to the Good Men Project, which published it.

Thank You.

Thursday is Thanksgiving. It’s been a very full week already. We buried my Dad on Monday, in New Jersey. This afternoon, we will drive three and a half hours to my friend’s house near Woodstock, New York, to celebrate the holiday.

 

I am lucky. For the last forty-two years or so, my wife and I have joined with my friends from College, the University of Michigan, to share the holiday together. When we were younger, we all stayed in one house, like a small community. Now, we need to rent an additional place to sleep. This was always one of the most important events of the year for me, the time I could let go of demands and just be with people without the need for any pretense. They were part of my family.

 

My Mom and Dad had a similar relationship with some friends. I had an Aunt Matilda and Uncle Murray, and Beatrice and Jack. They weren’t blood relatives but our families would celebrate holidays and go on trips together, along with my actual aunt and uncle, Sylvia and Jonas. They would all support each other. Jack, who owned a gas station, would help with the car. Murray and Mat, who sold blinds, would help with covering windows. My real uncle, Jonas, would help if there were electrical problems. My Dad, the accountant, would help with financial and tax matters. My Mom, the historian, would fill in the historical context. Etc.

 

And on this past Monday, representatives of all these families and more came or called. After a death, it is truly helpful to realize all that you are grateful for. Mostly, I am grateful for the love, support, companionship, advice—the central presence of my Dad in my life. I am grateful for all the people who were touched by my Dad’s life and who helped us say goodbye to him. I am grateful to my brother and sister-in-law who were so reliable and caring, who had to deal with so many of the arrangements, for the funeral, for my Dad’s hospice care, and all the times they had to rush to his side when I was too far away. I am thankful for my wife, Linda, for her steady wisdom and love and that look she gives me to remind me to focus on what’s most important in life. Thank you to the Rabbi and others who helped with the funeral and the hotel staff who helped with our Celebration of Life afterwards.

 

I could go on and on. I could thank other relatives, friends and neighbors from New York, Virginia, Atlantic City and other parts of New Jersey, California, and Colorado.

 

And for people I know and don’t know, who take the time to care for other people and our world. Who, despite fear of retribution, speak out, take action to oppose the abuse of powerful men, or the greediness and stupidity of this political administration. Without thousands, millions of people speaking up, the economic and other resources of this country will be ripped off by the powerful and the lives of most of us made more difficult, if not oppressive. My Dad opposed such rip offs and so all those who join together to speak out are, in some way, also family.

 

So, thank you. Enjoy the holidays.