Thankful for Friendship

In freshman year of high school, a new friend of mine invited me to sit with her friends during lunch. At the table was a tall girl, who had dumped her little box of raisins onto the table, and was taking each raisin one by one, pretended they were running across the table, then dropping them off the edge saying “AHHHH!” until they hit the floor.

This was how I met Donna Longcoy.

For almost 30 years, we have been friends. We made it through high school together, and college. We went on vacations together that featured pushing an antique car up a hill and knocking on random doors in a strange town in search of a funnel to siphon gas from said car to the out-of-gas truck towing it. We’ve been friends through fun times, hard times, guy trouble, job difficulties (we worked together for a while), weddings and funerals. Even though Donna and her husband live most of the way across the country, I am the official godmother to their 3 greyhounds, should anything happen to them.

Through most of this long journey, Donna and I shared the Monkees. With our other friend Donna Hanson, we followed “the guys” anywhere they appeared from New York to Virginia. Every tour brought new adventures, new memories, and new friends. The Monkees have been in our lives since 1986.

I dabble with drawing, and I had drawn a picture of the 4 Monkees. Over the years, one by one, I gathered the signatures of Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz on that picture. At last, the only signature I needed was Mike Nesmith.

This was a problem.

Michael Nesmith never toured with the Monkees after the group broke up in the late 1960s. He did a few select dates, but was for the most part missing. And he didn’t care much for solo tours, either, so he was hard to find. Until the past 2 years, Mike hadn’t toured since 1992. And even on these solo tours this year and last, he would not sign autographs for waiting fans—only to those lucky enough to get backstage passes.

Last year, neither Donna nor I got a pass. This year, a miracle occurred, and Donna, in the 11th hour, scored a backstage pass to Mike’s solo show in Arizona! Now, Mike had very strict rules about what he would sign. He’d sign almost unlimited items from his solo career, but only ONE Monkees item. ONE.

And Donna called me and said, “Send me your picture. I’ll get him to sign it.”

How incredible is that? She gave up her one Monkees item for me. She didn’t have to. I wouldn’t have asked her to. But she knew how long I had been trying for this, and she offered.

That is one great friend. But then, I don’t need proof of how awesome a friend Donna is—there’s a reason we’ve been friends for 29 years, after all!

So in this season of Thanksgiving, I am more thankful for my friend Donna than I can say. It is my fervent hope that our friendship will continue until our deaths—and on into Heaven, where we can rock out to the Monkees with our other friends whenever we want.

How about you? Any special friends you are thankful for and want to give a shout out to?

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Fallen Heroes

Twenty-five years ago today, the seven Challenger astronauts lost their lives in the pursuit of knowledge. Other people, like Martin Luther King, Jr., have given their lives standing for principles and speaking for the oppressed. Still others give their lives protecting other people—our police, firefighters, and military. These people, and others like them, are undeniably heroes. But in every person’s life, there are personal, private heroes—people who profoundly influenced their lives. My best friend Donna was one such person.

Donna made me laugh. She was just funny. We would laugh until we cried, until we could barely breathe. It wasn’t that she told a good joke—it was never anything I could explain to people and make them laugh, too. It was how she said what she said, and the timing with which she delivered her skewering deadpan sarcasm. I miss the laughter.

Donna could talk with the best of them (I have phone bills to prove it), but she could also listen. One of her gifts was to make you feel like you were the most important person to her at that moment. She could be hosting a party (something she did often), but when she spoke to you, you had her full attention. When it was just us alone, we could talk about anything—she never judged, never made me feel like my opinion or beliefs were irrelevant. She heard what I really meant, even if I couldn’t find the right words, and she always responded from her heart—a heart that was more generous than I can fathom.

Donna was a writer, and we grew as writers together. Would I have been a writer without her in my life? Certainly. I wrote before I ever met her. But I would not have come as far in my craft as fast as I did without her support and her passion. As many writers know, having a community of writing friends can rekindle the flame when you hit a rough patch. The solidarity of having a best friend who understood completely and shared the excitement of finding just the right word, or finishing a chapter, or hitting upon the perfect title was a tremendous boon.

Donna taught me how to be a true friend. Her loyalty was fierce. She never gave up on a friend and she never walked away from a friend in need. If she was your friend, it was for life. She put her friends ahead of herself. She listened. She consoled. She laughed. She accepted you for you, no questions asked, no demands made.

The final two lessons I learned from her came at the end of her life. I watched her face death at age 32 with dignity, with pride, and with a stubborn determination that this would not be her legacy. She once said to me, “I am not just my cancer.” While those around her raged at the unfairness of it all (and I know she did, too, from time to time), she told me “I’m so lucky, to have all these people that love me.” While those around her tried so desperately to hide their tears, she cracked jokes. While those around her worried endlessly for her comfort and prayed for her health, she worried about all of us. About who would take care of her husband when she died. About how he would cope. About how we would all cope. I promised her we would all take care of each other, and we have. We all learned that lesson well.

The last lesson was simply this: life is short; live it every day. Even before she was sick, Donna lived her life fully. After she got sick, she still found the joy in life. That lesson seems so obvious, but it is so hard to remember. I have to be reminded of it often.

Today is a day we remember Challenger’s fallen heroes. Today, also remember the heroes who have touched you in your life. Count your blessings. Find the joy.

Life is short.

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