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“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure.” Sir 6:14

Dear family and friends,

I’m about 10 days in to the new medications and have no real side effects so far.  In the first couple days I had a few areas of very mild skin irritation that were improved with a topical steroid and then just went away.  I also have felt a little more tired, but I think that’s more the effect of coming off the steroid I was taking to prep for radiation and which really made me feel wired.  I was getting only 4-5 hours of sleep while I was on the steroid, and feeling unusually energetic at the same time.  I think when I stopped taking them, I was hit with the effect of all the sleep I hadn’t gotten.  Even though I’ve had some days this week and last when I felt more tired than usual, I forced myself to get a few consecutive nights of 7-8 hours of sleep, and I felt great the following days.  So again, no side effects of the new drugs, as far as I can tell.

These past 10 days have been pretty packed with reunions with close friends, which was just terrific.  It has caused me to think a lot about friendship, which I reflected on in a previous post.  So I decided it’s time to take up the topic again.  And I think it’s fitting for Good Friday, the day of laying down one’s life for one’s friends.

First, my friend Fernando (I get to call him Nando because I’m kind of a big deal) came from Madrid to a work conference in Las Vegas, but he flew over to LA for a day to visit us.

Yes, we got the memo.

Nando and I met because we have a very close friend in common, a Spanish priest who lives in LA.  Fr. Luke happens to have given me a lot of advice I’ve mentioned previously, and he and Nando are childhood friends.  Several years ago, we decided to take a family trip to Spain and Portugal.  I asked Fr. Luke what we should see in his hometown of Madrid.  The next thing I know, Nando has taken multiple days off of work to show us all around Madrid as our personal tour guide.  He has arranged babysitting, multiple drivers, coordinated a paella party with all of Fr. Luke’s (sizable) extended family, and generally put himself at our service.  I had never been treated with such generosity by a stranger.  On another trip to Spain, Kendra, Lulu and I stayed at Nando’s home with his family.  We’ve had a birthday party for him in LA and hosted him on business trips.  It has been a remarkable friendship that has enriched my life.

Next I got together with Jay, longtime friend and Suzanne’s husband.  Jay is learning to live in his new reality after Suzanne’s death, and yet he’s been reaching out to me regularly to see how I’m doing with some of this recent news.  We got together at The Bear Pit, a BBQ joint with unmatched decor.

As an art form, the mural is almost universally awful, in this critic’s opinion.
Sorry, middle school class of ’02.
But there are well-executed murals everywhere you look at The Bear Pit.
Yes, that’s one of those Hamm’s beer signs on the right wall, complete with the shimmering waterfall.

The idea that Jay is thinking about me and how I’m doing when he’s raising seven kids, is back working full-time, and all without his beloved wife – that’s just astounding.  What extraordinary virtue.  Compassion, selflessness, charity, they’re all at work in Jay in a profound way.  I was touched and humbled by his concern for me.

Next, three of my closest college friends, one from New York, one from Connecticut, and one from San Francisco, came to stay with us.  They came bearing gifts for the kids, dinner, pies, ideas for games kids and grownups could all play, photos and memories.  It was the best.

Paul, Jane, and Elliot joined us for a great two-day visit

Paul brought what any “fun uncle” would bring as a gift – pets!
Hey, no batteries, and they don’t make noise.
Naming was conducted by an elaborate process that involved many suggestions, 
informal polling, and coalition building all guided by Paul, with a finger on the scale.

After a hilarious game where we wrote a phrase, passed it to someone to draw it,
then the next person had to guess what the drawing was, then the next person had to draw
that guess, then the last person had to guess that drawing…

…the kids thought dad’s friends were the coolest.

I suppose that having cancer is a good way to get people to come visit you.  But they really didn’t have to go to such effort to give us a great weekend, but they did because they’re great people, and I was really touched.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about friendship as a result of all this.  As I said in the earlier post, I think that the very idea friendship needs rehabilitation right now.  I believe that the cure for the loneliness I observe in our society is a return to authentic friendships.  I believe friendship, which ultimately is love, is what will save the world.  Here are a few things I particularly noticed in my friends over the last two weeks that make true friendship what it is: self-sacrifice, service, investment of time, and bettering of others.
True friendship is self-sacrificing and it serves others.  I think this is the biggest factor in moving beyond a set of superficial acquaintances.  A group can get together for beers or poker or lunch, etc., but if no one ever actually says, “Let me pick your kids up from school so that you can visit your dad in the hospital,” or “How about we bring you dinner so that pregnant mom can have the night off?” then I wonder if the group is more about an affinity for beer or poker or lunch.  And of course, groups of friends do these things, but I think true friendship requires making the leap to sacrificing my time or some other precious resource without an expectation of getting anything back.
The Catholic Church takes Jesus’ justifications for admitting souls to heaven in Matthew 25 (clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, etc.) and lists them out as the Corporal Works of Mercy.  Several of my friends I mentioned above made a big sacrifice and traveled a great distance to visit me – granted, the least sick cancer patient around.  But these visits were deeply meaningful to me.  
True friendship requires an investment of time beyond shared leisure.  I guess this could be another name for sacrifice because time has become so valuable in our age.  But I think of investing time and sacrifice as somewhat distinct because it’s during that time spent with a friend that we learn what that other person truly cares about, what they want out of life and for their family, how they define happiness, what they believe.  Understanding these personal details about others, if they allow them to be known, helps us love them with their faults and idiosyncrasies and the ways that they are different from us.  My friends invested a lot of time in me and in my family.  We all did a lot of listening, too.
True friends make each other better people.  This last round of visits, I noticed a lot of thoughtfulness on the part of my friends when it came to small details.  This is an example I’m grateful for, and can take and apply to be a better friend myself.
Before my friends’ visits, I hadn’t felt lonely, abandoned or overlooked by any means.  I’m surrounded by love in my family, and I really do have wonderful friends right here in LA.  But to know that others had really gone out of their way for me, to come and do whatever was needed, even though I don’t need anything in particular, in short, to feel loved by friends – it all meant a tremendous amount.  My spirits where already high, as I hope comes through in these posts because it’s true.  They were lifted higher.  I’ve been happy.  I was made happier.  I shouldn’t be surprised because it’s always a joy to be reunited with those I love and care about.  But it was great timing given the recent curveball of Plan B and the uncertainty that comes with it.  It really got me thinking about what good could be done for the people who do genuinely feel lonely or abandoned.
Let me make something clear.  None of this is a plea for more people go out of your way to come visit, though friends are always welcome in our home.  And the invitation to local friends to bring dinner and share it with us stands.  But actually what I’m getting at is that all of us should be the best friends we can be right where we are.  I’d rather see people do more of this with those who need it right in your own orbit.  I’d get a lot of joy and satisfaction out of paying it forward with this virtual nudge.  So visit the nursing home or take dinner to the couple that just had a baby right there in your own neighborhood, offer the inconvenience as a prayer that I beat this thing, and we’ll call it more than even.
With fortitude and prayers for you,