"Will you play with me?" Little Eliza Harold, age 4, asks me this question every time I see her. Being chosen as a friend is one the best things in life and it comes so easily to children. When I was a "free-range" kid, all kids were outside all day in all seasons. At least, it seemed that way. With the grownups busy and out of the way, we forged fast friendships and played our hearts out.
Moving away from home to college, there was still no shortage of friends and that was my lucky fate for a long stretch. That is, until I moved alone to a city three thousand miles away. For a few months, I called friends cross-country, but that couldn't keep loneliness from creeping in, and feeling friendless, life became so hard. It was in the middle of a February blizzard, that I met Mark Goldin, an 80-something Scrabble genius playing in a match at a local French bakery. He was a tough adversary with a charming penchant for sweets, but what I really loved about him was that he looked forward to seeing me. I was willing to hike a mile through a foot of snow to see his friendly face. To be the face of love in friendship to someone else is really a gift, and we may never know how much it means.
Each morning, driving my dad's old truck toward Bend and into the beautiful sunrise, I often ponder things he said. I'd really like to call him up and say, "Hey, you were right about that," because I'm just beginning to understand. One thing he was an expert on was friendship.
Thinking about friendship and the faces of love brings to mind the hundreds of times he told me about his Special People. This was a group of people so important to him that he wanted to write a book about them. He would often stop and talk about each of them, making sure not to forget one. No matter how far away in distance or time the friendship was, each of these special friends had become a part of him. What made these people extra special was that each one was mentally or physically challenged.
His first special friend was Bobby Estes. Growing up in Kansas, the boys loved to ride their bikes together through town. Bobby liked the paved streets and he, Danny, liked the brick streets. The friendship was true and deep even though in time Danny grew up while Bobby remained about age nine mentally. Bobby became a regular fixture in the newsroom of the local paper and a few years ago, the news traveled from Kansas to Oregon that Bobby had passed away. I can't help but hope they are riding their bikes together again now.
Young as Eliza, elderly as Mark, challenged as Bobby, all of us can be a friend. Take the chance!