I think the first time I met Tony was the first day of my first class of theological seminary in the fall of 1974. I may have been introduced or had a brief conversation with him prior to that classroom meeting, but it was the beginning of my having an opportunity to actively listen to what he had to say and to share my ideal with him. We soon had more conversation than the class sessions afforded and found ourselves engaged in deep conversation over a cup of coffee or tea and a snack. The next year we shared a study, kitchen, dining room and living room in a house we rented from the school while still attending classes together. During Christmas break that year his family traveled with us on the train back to Montana and met our families. We found plenty of Montana winter adventures during that vacation. The following summer we camped our way across the midwest headed back to Montana. We were returning for another summer of managing our church camp in the mountains. His family was heading to the west coast and from there flying back to their home in Australia.

In the following couple of years, we finished seminary, were ordained, and began our careers as ministers. Tony has visited us in each place we have lived since graduating from seminary, Between visits we have exchanged letters, emails, occasional phone calls, and conversations over Skype. Children have been born, family members have died, we have moved from place to place. Life has gone on with its celebrations and its grief and each experience has been made more meaningful because we have been able to share those experiences with Tony. We visited his family in Australia and helped them celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. When his wife suddenly died, we spoke on the phone as he traveled through the early days of the journey of grief. When Susan became seriously ill, Tony was on the phone with words of encouragement and support. When Tony was married once again, we attended the wedding virtually on the Internet.

Yesterday when Tony and his new wife came up the escalator from the transit train art SeaTac International Airport, I recognized them immediately. After exchanging greetings and hugs we once again picked up the easy banter and conversation about all kinds of different subjects that has marked our friendship for nearly a half century.

Our friendship with Tony has become a fixture of our lives. Whenever I hear the phrase “lifelong friendship,” I think of Tony. We didn’t meet as children, but we have maintained a steady friendship since we first met. He has been a good friend to our children and our children and his son are close even though they have never lived on the same continent.

The letters BFF, meaning best friends forever, are thrown about freely these days on social media. Often they don’t really designated best friends and they aren’t testimonies of long-term friendships. Social media is especially fickle when it comes to long term commitments. Friendships, connections, conversations, and entire social medial platforms come and go. But, as our friendship with Tony illustrates, there are friendships that endure. The passage of time strengthens the connections between us.

Today, with our Australian friends staying with us, with our daughter and grandson also here for a visit, we will note our 49th wedding anniversary. Significant times like this are best celebrated in the presence of friends and family. Our anniversary is another demonstration of the deep value of lasting friendships. We were friends before we were married and we continue to be the best of friends after all of these years. When we say best friends forever we know what we are saying.

The companionship of a friend who travels this life’s journey alongside you is one of the great sources of pleasure and meaning in this life. When it comes to friends, I have been richly blessed with people who have stuck with me through all kinds of changes. There are a few people in this world who knew me when I had red hair and now know me when my hair is white and there isn’t much of it on my head at all. They knew me when my convictions were new and being tested and I was trying out to figure out what I believed. They know me now that I am more set in my thoughts and beliefs. They have been a sounding board for my doubts as well as my beliefs.

Somewhere I heard that avoiding talk of religion and politics was a good way to maintain civil relationships. With my friends, however, we have no such fears. We talk about politics whenever we are together. We have talked of religion into the wee hours of the next day so often that it is almost a habit with us. We are confident in our relationship and know that the discovery of a difference is a way to add to the richness of our friendship and not a thread to our enjoyment of one another.

The process of retiring during a pandemic has meant that more of our relationships with friends need to take place over distances. We are fortunate to life in a time when telephone calls are inexpensive and video chat is available on every computer and even the cell phones we carry with us wherever we go. Still, it is a real blessing to be together as friends. There is something about sitting at the same table and catching up with what has been going on in our lives that makes the process way easier than doing the same thing while staring into a computer screen.

The summer solstice has arrived. Last night was the shortest of the year. The days are at their longest. And we have no shortage of things to say from dawn to dusk and well beyond dusk to the quiet of the night. To be surrounded by such dear friends is a blessing beyond description. Joy, joy, joy!

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