Out and About (Sort of) Friendship Howard Freedlander

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Last week my wife and I traveled to Jacksonville, FL to spend a few days with the widow of a friend whom I met when I was an 18-year-old college freshman. He died suddenly on June 6, 2010 of a heart aneurysm.

We became very good friends as adults, as I participated in his wedding, he attended mine and we attended children’s weddings. We talked frequently. Our politics were similar.

He also served as a mentor during my conversion in my late 40s from Judaism to Episcopalism. Shortly after he graduated from college, he converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism. I never knew he was considering what would have seemed to me at the time to be a radical step.

His death deeply affected me. Still does. I delivered one of two eulogies at his funeral nearly eight years ago. Last week, at I walked into the family house in which his wife and daughter still live, I choked up a bit. I’ve visited several times since 2010; this time I felt his presence, more than ever. I don’t know why.

I often think about friendship. I wonder why it’s important for me and my wife to visit Jacksonville and spend time with my friend’s family and friends. Why not let go and strengthen the living friendships and forsake the past?

I wish I had an answer.

Friendship is a transitory passage. Once strong relationships oftentimes weaken or dissipate. It just happens. Explanation is unknown, or at least mystifying. What was the breaking point? And then, just as mysteriously, a friendship reawakens, or a new one emerges.

For me and maybe others, friendships often can be easier to maintain and cultivate than relationships with family members, who sometimes can be constant irritants. Friends provide a wonderfully satisfying dimension to life. In fact, life is emptier and less fulfilling without friends who feel no need to be as judgmental and burdensome as family members.

When I think about my longtime friend in Jacksonville, where he was raised and reared his family, I retain memories of a top-quality person who liked to smile, exuded optimism, reveled in the real estate development business and devoted himself to the community he loved.

I recall the night before the funeral, during a visitation at the funeral home, that a young woman stood up when the priest welcomed testimony and spoke about my friend’s gentlemanly demeanor when she would help him at a clothing store he patronized. That this young lady would take the time to attend a solemn event and then talk about a customer who treated her nicely—and liked to buy expensive clothes— that left a lasting impression on me. Bill’s kind treatment of others never wavered.

He died too young. He left family and friends grieving the loss of an exceedingly good and decent person who rarely spoke ill of anyone.

As my wife, my friend’s widow and I walked the Ponte Vedra Beach outside Jacksonville on a cool, breezy day, looking at the rippling waves and foam-covered beach, I thought that friendship doesn’t end at the water’s edge, that a person’s soul surrounds you whenever memories penetrate your mind and heart.

Some say that the good die young. Perhaps that’s true in too many instances.

The obverse is that the nasty folks remain to contaminate the world with their belligerence. I’m just not sure that that observation is accurate, or even helpful facing a friend’s death. That is not to say that I didn’t feel angry about the death of a person who improved, not degraded and besmirched the world in which we live.

I did and still do.

So, I was happy to continue my friendship in Jacksonville. I could quietly pay reverence to a longtime friend and enjoy his family and friends. I even agreed to take two of his books about Winston Churchill. He loved to buy thick tomes, though I don’t know if he read them.

I grieve by smiling internally. My friend would have disliked sadness.

Good friends are still alive in our memories—and funny stories that grow more humorous with time.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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