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Friends often found in unlikely places

One of the things we learn as we get old is that we can meet a few people in life and in a few minutes feel that we have known them all of our lives. In other cases, we can know people -- even in our own families -- but never get past a superficial knowledge of each other. We can miss that deep understanding of where we have been, what we have learned, who has affected who we are and what causes we would fight for and, if necessary, die for.

I met a man like that a few months ago. He had had a stroke in Canada. He found himself with a weak arm and leg, facing the struggle to regain the abilities he didn't think about until he'd lost them. We were both in the old Our Lady of Victory rehab center.

I had been writing Sunday School stories for 50 years, but I found that I was struggling with anger toward God, who didn't seem to care. I was having my own pity party, and couldn't relate to others who were worse off.

Six of us who could manage with minimum help ate in a tiny dining room. The others around me were worse off than I was, but I didn't care.

Then I caught the eye of the fellow who was watching me with concern. I could tell that he understood my feelings.

"Hi, how's it going?" he asked, and stuck out his good hand. "My name is Norman. What's yours?"

I growled something and he nodded. His eyes were saying, "This, too, will pass."

We soon were solving all of the problems of the world. We had opinions about everything. He was a Catholic and I was a Wesleyan. We shared about our families, our employment, our hobbies and the military. We'd both been in World War II. He'd been in the Coast Guard and I was in the Navy.

His wife, Pat, and my wife, Sally, got acquainted and went shopping together and brought back two pairs of pants just alike with airplanes on them. The nurses and aides began to call us the Gold Dust Twins. We began to rag the waitresses for an extra egg, an extra ice cream or some late snack.

We lay in bed before lights-out talking of things of our faith. One night, Norman remembered those who had made a difference in his life. There was a special teacher, his wife, his parents, his kids and some of the fellows at Ford where he worked. He remembered the guys he golfed with, and taking his grandchildren fishing.

We compared notes on some of the negatives we had run into at work, but also observed how some people welcomed a Christian friend in a setting outside of "church." We agreed that we hoped we had made a difference in a few people's lives.

We were thankful for our wives and admitted that we hadn't been as faithful in thanking the Lord for them as we might have been. We committed ourselves to do better.

We knew that we'd learned that death is part of life. We admitted that we were concerned about some of our young people who were making choices we didn't understand or agree with. We began to pray for them after lights-out.

One night Norman said with emotion, "When I die, I don't want the people to cry. Oh, I don't want them to have a party, but I think it's been a pretty good show, you know?"

We lay in the dark for a while.

"You know, I think we've made a difference. That makes me feel like it's been worth the bumps and bruises," Norman said, sighing contentedly.

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