In 2004, I attended a funeral service at the Mount Zion church in Austin, Texas. Mount Zion is a large church nestled among the small wood-framed homes of the working-class neighborhood on Austin's east side. I had arrived just as the service was to begin. I had not realized that I would have to park so far from the church, as there were a large number of cars parked for blocks on end between the driveways of the neighboring houses. Side streets were filled with cars, as well. As the church was filled, I was escorted into an adjoining building to listen and watch the services on a wall-sized projection system. Many others had also arrived too late to enter the church and the adjoining building was filled with more than 100 other attendees.
I wasn't surprised to see so many people, as I knew that Reverend Ted Jackson had touched many in his life of service to others. Ted had been driving fellow parishioners to a church service in Cameron, Texas when a young girl driving towards Austin had lost control of her car and unexpectedly veered into Ted's lane crashing head-on into the church van. The young girl, Ted and two of his passengers died in the crash. Another passenger in the church van was left in critical condition. I was attending the service to honor Ted, not realizing that it would be a double service until I was seated and looked at the program. I had never met Reverend Kenny Himes, but even in his death he was to impact my own life as he had with so many others throughout his life.
A pillar in our community, Ted was always there with the church van to drive those in need of transportation to church, the doctor's office or to purchase groceries. One never had to question Ted, for he was always ready and willing to offer a helping hand. Perhaps it was due to his generosity that a mutual friend, Robb Hinkelman, had asked Ted to become a member of the Austin Northeast Rotary Club where I had been a member for many years. Ted had joined the club, as others have, so that he could be of benefit to others. Service Above Self is the motto of Rotary and Ted epitomized that motto in his ways.
I also wasn't surprised when one after another, people stood at the pulpit to speak about the two ministers - taken much too early in life, in the midst of raising families, working jobs, and helping others in the community in so many ways. Both ministers had been mentors to many young men in the community. Several of the young men had gone on to become ministers and had been invited to the service to speak of the relationships with their mentors.
So many friends, relatives and co-workers took to the pulpit that each had to limited to only two minutes. Although it would seem difficult to express what a person meant to one in only two minutes, they spoke eloquently. They spoke of the ministers' many accomplishments, their profession of faith, the great number of people who had attended their services, and the positions the ministers had held in the church and community. Indeed, these two men had accomplished much in their short lives on this earth. But, what the speakers overlooked was that these men had accomplished what so many of us can only hope to achieve in our lifetime. Ted and Kenny had both come to realize that the true value of a man is not so much what he has accomplished in life, but how he accomplished it.
In the eulogy, the minister spoke of the importance of always having one's goal in front of oneself. If your goal is behind you - if you are walking away from your goal, then you won't be able to see it and what you don't see, you can't achieve. Ted and Kenny never walked away from anything. They faced their goals and never lost sight of the wonderful friendships that could be cultivated by being genuinely interested in others. Self-interest was never evident in the thousands of relationships that these two men were involved in.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, "A friend is a present you give yourself." Like Ted and Kenny, you'll do well to be very generous to yourself in this area. Just remember to always think first of others and your friendships will come easy and be plentiful.
This remembrance came back to me this morning when I awoke. I went to sleep with a heavy heart, frustrated by a close friend who unintentionally, perhaps, creates a huge amount of conflict in my life. The problem is that my friend is seemingly unaware of the need for reciprocation in a friendship.
My days are filled with the great joy in my daily writings, interspersed with painting, reading, and learning. During the day, I take breaks from my work to go on several walks around my neighborhood in Cuernavaca. The sidewalks are filled with my neighbors who bring great joy into my life — always there with a smile and a friendly handshake. They comment that I am seemingly healthy for a 70-year-old person and how much energy I have. They tell me how great it makes them feel to see an older person with a smile on their face and a spring to their walk - hoping that they will be as healthy when they reach my age.
Some days, however, I very much feel like the from Gabriel García Márquez' book, El Coronel No Tiene Quien le Escriba, (No One Writes to the Colonel). It is a story of a colonel, a veteran of the Thousand Days' War, who rises each morning and walks to the post office each day to see if he has received the pension he was promised upon his retirement fifteen years earlier. I too, check each morning to see if I have received a message from my friend. Although I had attempted to write a happy message to my friend each morning for quite some time, I became aware that if I did not take the initiative the message would not be there.
As Stevenson said, "A friend is a present you give yourself," The sad part is that no matter how much friendship and care you give to another, we cannot always expect that the friendship will be returned - we can only hope for the best. What matters most is who you are when you are with your friend to make it as perfect as you can for yourself. It is up to the other person to do the same in order to receive the perfection that they want from the friendship. As St. Augustine said, "The function of perfection: to make one know one's own imperfections."