Friend

It was warm and muggy as we walked from the dairy barn down to the metal structure that housed some cows. Before FCLI, I hadn’t even known Faulkner County had a dairy farm. The place smelled exactly like you would imagine such a place would smell, weird. My heart harbored no grudges against the milking of cows or the drinking of milk at the table every day. I decided, though, that all the steps in between were best forgotten.

The experience of the Leadership class had been full of fun and learning. It felt dumb to even think that, as if I were reciting from FCLI promotional materials. It was true, though. Many of my classmates would later become board members, a professional network, and true friends.

Laughter rang out among us as we chattered, taking step after dusty step down the slight slope of the road to the pen. The nausea rose up instantly, as it had done faithfully over the last week. It was undoubtedly exacerbated by the best-not-thought-about milk production process I had just witnessed. I halted slightly, to catch my breath. A classmate saw me falter and hung back a second to check on me. “Are you okay?” Eric asked. In an unexpected moment of vulnerability, I just looked at him and said, “Well, actually, I’m pregnant, so I’m trying not to throw up.”

I had been pregnant enough times to witness a variety of reactions from people when I told them the news. There was quite a wide range of ways such information might be processed. I had not at that time told anyone in the leadership class about the situation. Frankly, I was still processing the news myself. People really felt free to say anything they thought, kind or not, when they found out you were having your sixth child.  

Although I could tell I had completely caught him off guard, the look on his face was one of genuine happiness. “Oh, my, goodness!” he said, “Congratulations!” I found myself caught up in an immediate hug. See, the thing about Eric, was that his personality could best be described as kindness personified. Not everyone was made of that kind of material. When he talked about his family, his sweet wife and children, you just felt the love pour off of him in buckets. His sense of humor was spot on. He was armed with a quick wit that he carried as comfortably as a lawman carried a sidearm.

Perhaps that was the reason I just spontaneously let him in on the secret. I had not planned to tell anyone yet.  My own bewilderment at the situation must have been written all over my face. He was quick with a laugh and extended genuine and exuberant congratulations. “No one knows yet, I haven’t told them!” I said. He just laughed. “I won’t say anything!” he promised.  True to his word, he didn’t spill the beans. That didn’t keep him, however from giving me pointed looks when the moment could have called for a joke about the situation. That was his humor, he didn’t even always have to tell the joke for the punchline to land. He could just look at you and you would know.

A year later, months after the leadership class came to an end, I found myself in the hospital recovering from surgery. Poor Steven was stuck at home with all the boys, one of whom was a 3- month-old who was having to learn on the fly to take a bottle. I stared out the window and tried to ignore the drainage tube in my neck. It pulled weird when I moved and I kept having to distract myself from thinking about it.  I had just had my second surgery in two weeks. Just when I thought I would never stop thinking about the tube, Eric walked in. He worked at the hospital and had come by to visit.

“Hey woman, just checking in to see how we’re treating you!” he said. There he was again with a laugh and a smile. Somewhere in the conversation he asked me what I needed, and I made a hopeful request for a shake. He came back later, shake in hand. That ever-present kindness making an appearance once again. He always carried it around with him.

It was interesting to think about how in two somewhat serious moments in my life, he just happened to be around. In all fairness, I did not believe it was random. I told him as much later. I think Jesus was all over that, providing handholds to get me up the mountain I was climbing. He had carefully selected people to be in my life just when I needed them. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, and it would not be the last.

It had been a difficult year, full of experiences I never imagined. I had learned that some people in our lives were incapable of giving us what we most wanted from them.  We had to simply accept what they were willing to offer if we were to maintain any kind of relationship at all. That’s a difficult realization when you are going through big life events.

There were other people, though. Ones from whom we expected nothing, but they simply placed in our laps, without any expectations, priceless gifts of friendship.

I’m glad I know an Eric. Everyone should know one.

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