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“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Dear Family and Friends,

Infusion 4 went off without a hitch.  Still no adverse side effects.  I’m feeling great and breathing well.  I have also passed a milestone that means they don’t have to monitor me quite so much.  For the first three treatments they ran EKGs on me at various intervals, and they drew a new set of labs after each of the three different drugs I receive.  No more of that, which was a nice surprise.  I also got my strongest lead yet on hiring a nurse.  I think the word is out about me with the UCLA nurses.  One poked her head in to my treatment room and asked if I’m interested in hiring her brother, which was pretty cool.  I still have not gotten a cease and desist letter from UCLA, so full speed ahead.

This infusion day was made really great because my best friend came in from Chicago to visit me and spend the evening with us.  My friend Jason and I have at various times over the last 17 years been classmates, business partners, and supports to each other as we try and try again to be ever better husbands and fathers.  He was my business partner at the time of Cancer 1.0, and he picked up a tremendous amount of slack for me as I did my year of interferon, which you might recall I no longer badmouth.

Nowadays Jason is the founder and president of Karetas Brewing (@karetasbrewing / #karetasbrewing), and he makes amazing craft beers that you can buy only in Illinois.  Fortunately I “know a guy,” and he put 10 wine bottle-sized bottles of his beer in checked luggage on his way out here to visit.  We hosted a small guys’ night get together so that some local friends could try the beer and meet the founder.  Jason’s own journey and the decision to found Karetas are a great story of faith, hope, and love, and it was inspiring to all of us in attendance to hear it.  We also learned a lot about beer.

Moderation report: about 10 other guys helped us

So yesterday and today were a perfect opportunity to reflect on friendship: friends in my life, what it means to be a friend, to have friends, and also on the nature of friendship, particularly right now in western civilization.

Friends in my life:  Having another cancer episode sure has confirmed that we are surrounded by great friends.  Jason and others have come to visit from out of town, people have dropped off or even come and cooked dinner for us, others have watched the kids or given our kids rides in order to help out with some of the slightly more complicated logistics we have at the moment, plus some untold number of people are praying for me and for my family.  I went to pick my daughter up from a week at camp and introduced myself to one of the other campers’ moms.  I hadn’t met her before, and I was humbled and touched to hear her say that she had signed up for an hour of adoration for me.  All this is to say that I am sincerely grateful to have an incredibly generous and caring group of friends.

Being a friend and having friends:  I have spent a lot of time over the years reading the works of Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest and saint of the Catholic church who lived in the 20th century.  He had a keen insight that people’s hearts are turned by friendship.  Want to convince somebody that your political view is right or religion is the path to true joy?  Rather than making doctrinal arguments, condescending, handing them scores of tracts, or bringing them to hear more engaging or challenging sermons, try starting with being a better friend to that person.  He called this the “apostolate of friendship” and from the beginning it just resonated with me as a terrific way to live life – just trying to be the friend that other people deserve.  He also observed that it’s not enough to have a lot of superficial acquaintances.  We need to get past the level of mere shared interest in a sports team or in getting together for beers, not that those can’t be good things.  They can.  But our friends need us to sacrifice for them, understand what weighs on them, pray for them, and be generous with them when it comes to our time and resources.  And we need to listen.  I think it’s easy to fall into the temptation to think that all of our stories, anecdotes, and remarks are eminently relevant, interesting, and invited by all others at all times in any conversation, any setting.  I know I have to remember to shut up and listen, and to actively solicit the thoughts of others.  I can go on and on with stories, but that’s not really being a great friend.  The Catholic church teaches that to love is to will the good of the other, and that’s a good summary of all these things I have picked up from Escriva’s writings.  Having cancer again has given me reason to go back and evaluate how I’m doing on willing others’ good.  It certainly spurred me to pray for others more, all of you included.

Nature of friendship today:  I think there’s a big gap between that ideal of self-sacrificing friendship, intensely focused on the good of the other, and what often passes for friendship in our society.  I interact with a lot of acquaintances and strangers in the course of the day.  Frequently when I talk with them or hear what they talk about, I don’t pick up on a lot of depth or meaning in their interests, how they spend their time, who or what they serve, and who they interact with.  I don’t think there’s any mystery why we have so many suicides, overdoses, and frankly, so much polarization.  I can also tell by some of the monologue “conversations” in which I find myself that no one has listened to some of these people in a long time.  It all adds up to profound loneliness, and I believe that’s one of the illnesses that afflicts our times.  People search for meaning.  And true friendships – and even just having acquaintances who listen, care, and are generous – can bring a lot of meaning to people’s lives.  I don’t think I’m likely to become new best friends with a lot of the faces in the crowd, but I know I can do a better job of listening and being pleasant to people who annoy me but who still need someone to listen.

So here’s to the start of a revolution in the nature of friendship.  It could change a lot of what burdens us, it’s enjoyable and worth it, we all know how to do it, and it actually isn’t very difficult.

With fortitude and prayers for you,