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by: Kj Maguire

I think it is not coincidence that the word friendship contains the word ship. Stop working, stop checking things off your ďto-doĒ list, stop balancing your checkbook and just spend a few quiet moments today thinking about your best friend.

 If youíre lucky, you wonít be able to immediately identify who that person is. You may have several close and treasured friends and declaring one your ďbestĒ friend may seem to diminish the value of the rest. And then again, you may have a small variety of best friends because one is your work friend, one is your skiing friend, maybe another is your spouse or one of your parents and youíre friends for reasons that go beyond free-time.

 But ultimately, I think you know who Iím talking about. They are your best friend and if you think about it long enough, it becomes more clear, not less. Now donít be distressed if this person has other friends. That is not a factor. It is completely possible and acceptable to recognize their value to you as a friend despite their close and trusted relationships with others. Thatís fine.

 Now, put this person aside for a minute and think about your life without them. Iím not saying ďpicture them deadĒ. Iím just saying look at your day-to-day path through this world that is separate from your time with them. See if you can identify ways that they affect your thinking, your behavior, or your choices. Chances are they do. Dead or alive, they have an impact on you. I think thatís one of the key indicators of best friend status.

 Back to that notion of a ship. I have a couple of friends who swear up and down that the greatest vacation in the whole world is to get on a cruise ship for a week or two. ďEverything is includedĒ they declare. If you look at life on a cruise ship, it would be easy to forget that youíre even on a ship. It can easily become a city in and of itself. Moving, floating, underway or docked, itís more or less the same fun, comfortable little village. But itís still a ship. Someone looking from a distance, say Ĺ mile away, would probably see none of the life going on aboard ship. They would not see the food, the games, the dancing, or the conversation. They would see a ship and nothing more. It may be a grand and magnificent ship, but it is just a boat. (By the way, my father, ex-Navy,  would stop me at this point to remind me that a ship is a ship and a boat is a boat. The two words are NOT interchangeable. He has explained to me on numerous occasions that a boat is what you might put ON a ship but the reverse could never be true. They are not the same thing.)

 Those viewing this ship from a distance would be missing the whole reason for being aboard. The life.

 I think friendship is like that. Most people look at you from a distance and they see a guy or a girl going through life and having a good time, or having trouble, or what everÖ.. They donít think too much about whatís going on onboard. They are a part of your world because you share an ocean, or you wave when you pass, or you seem to have similar destinations. They donít really know for certain, but to them, from a distance it sure looks that way. What separates them from best friend status is that theyíre not really onboard. Maybe they donít want to be or maybe they have never been invited, but either way, they are on somebody elseís cruise.

 If your ship catches fire or hits an iceberg, they would be more than happy to radio for help or launch the life boats. But you canít really count on them to dive in and start saving people. You canít really count on them to give up their life preserver or their seat on a life boat. They might but you canít be sure.

 Best friends on the other hand make no such measured judgments. They just jump. No hesitation, no regrets, they dive in. Right about now, you may be rethinking your choice for best friend status in your life and if so, thatís OK. But be sure about one thing. They either are, or they arenít. Thereís no middle ground.

 What if you start to think that maybe you donít have someone like this in your life? What if you start to feel a little afraid that nobody is that close to you, no one would jump in without hesitation and risk everything to help you?  I would suggest that itís not true. I would suggest that you have exactly that type of person in your sphere of influence but you havenít noticed them yet. Kind of a nice thought huh? Donít be so busy. Donít be so smug as to think that youíve got this life business all figured out. Could be you donít. Could be there is somebody out there who sees you as their best friend. Could be you have several of these people. In fact, Iíll go so far as to say that itís likely.

 So now, if you can accept that, you have a lot of interesting things you can do with that knowledge. What a great way to live a life, looking for the best in people. Looking for alliances and relationships that you have underestimated and undervalued. How fun to get up every day wondering where the next surprise shipmate will show up.

 I think itís a shame that people test their friendships only during times of trouble. I think itís a shame that the strength of a bolt is defined as the point at which it breaks. If youíre lucky, and if youíre smart, the people who care about you this way will start to look differently than the rest of the crowd. They will be in color while those behind them are in black and white.

 Oh, and Iíll tell you what made me think about his whole thingÖ. I read an article about some French born explorer who has lived in Finnish Lapland for the last 15 years. She decided to walk, alone and unaided, to the North Pole which struck me as odd because other people have already done this. In fact one of the things she is known for is that she walked alone and unaided to the magnetic north pole a full 13 years after some other woman had done it. The point is that as of this writing, she has gone missing on her first day out. And this got me thinkingÖ.. What a waste? All over the world, there are people that would give everything, ANYTHING to have one more day on this earth. Imagine the cancer patient or the AIDS patient whoís light is dimmingÖ. What would they give for a week of good health and the ability to just walk to the market and buy a candy bar?  This all just started to seem very out of whack to me.

 I guess the thought of doing that myself, walking someplace so dangerous for what amounts to no reason what-so-ever just seemed very sad. How is there nobody in this womanís life who would step up and say, ďYou know, Dominick, there are a couple of kids in my sonís class that need help with their reading. Would you be able to tutor them.Ē Or how about ďGee, Dominick, I understand the homeless shelter is running out of money, why not take some of your slush fund (no pun intended) and help them get their furnace fixed?Ē

 Iím sure this is just small minded of me. Iím sure that I have failed to grasp the power and exhilaration that comes from seeing how close you can come to dying without really dying, but the truth is I admit that. I donít see it. Life is full of enough landmines. You can punch out just walking across the street. How is that any less glamorous than dying along 200 miles from anywhere on a frozen ice shield where you have wandered voluntarily? I guess I donít get it.

 The most valuable things in my life are not things. Theyíre times and places that I have shared with somebody. No question that I enjoy quiet alone-time to think and regain my equilibrium, but basically, Man is a social animal. Your family, your friends and your impact on others is for the most part, the definition of your life.

 I guess it makes sense from time-to-time to look around and take stock. Donít get so busy that you miss that best friend that has been there for you time and time again. Donít get so focused on your task list that you over look your shipmates. You have a lot of rare and precious conversations ahead of you. It would be a shame to miss them.