Good friends, girl friends

The Covington News - - Front page -

Once upon a time, from 1980-88, a man I re­gard as one of the four great­est to serve as Pres­i­dent of The United States of Amer­ica in­hab­ited the White House. Ron­ald Wil­son Rea­gan, for­mer ac­tor, fig­u­ra­tively rode into Washington, D.C. on a white horse right out of his old Western movies and led Amer­ica back from the brink of eco­nomic obliv­ion, sky­rock­et­ing in­fla­tion, stag­ger­ing un­em­ploy­ment and Jimmy Carter’s at­tempt to down­size our Navy to un­der 200 ships.

Rea­gan ap­peared just in the nick of time. Crit­ics branded his sup­ply-side, trickle-down, cor­po­rate tax-cut­ting ap­proach to money man­age­ment as “Rea­gan-omics.” It would never work, the ex­perts said.

Well, it worked. Amer­ica em­barked on the great­est eco­nomic ex­pan­sion in mod­ern his­tory. Along the way Rea­gan out-spent the Union of Soviet So­cial­ist Re­publics, caus­ing that en­tity’s even­tual col­lapse and thus end­ing and win­ning The Cold War.

Mr. Rea­gan knew a thing or two about suc­cess­ful man­age­ment, in­deed. He en­joyed a re­mark­able abil­ity to del­e­gate re­spon­si­bil­ity - and then to get out of the way. Al­though poor de­ci­sions made by sub­or­di­nates stung upon oc­ca­sion, Rea­gan’s man­age­ment sys­tem worked - and worked well.

One great move was Rea­gan’s choice to chair the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties: Lynne Cheney. On Cheney’s watch the NEH spon­sored Sum­mer Sem­i­nars for School Teach­ers; teach­ers im­mersed them­selves in sub­ject mat­ter of their own choos­ing and were taught by world-class schol­ars, thus be­com­ing rein­vig­o­rated.

Sadly, the NEH sem­i­nars are no more. But be­fore their elim­i­na­tion, I stud­ied the es­says of Michel de Mon­taigne at Whitman Col­lege in Walla Walla, Washington, hop­ing to dis­cover why it was that French philoso­pher Blaise Pas­cal re­garded Mon­taigne with con­tempt.

Mon­taigne’s life was quite in­ter­est­ing. One of his quotes piqued my in­ter­est that sum­mer of 1994, and I’ve never been able to let it go.

“A good friend is so rare,” wrote Mon­taigne, “as to only come along ev­ery 600 years.”

It took me a while to to­tally ab­sorb that sen­ti­ment. My first in­cli­na­tion was that Mon­taigne didn’t know what he was talk­ing about. I mean, we all have friends, don’t we?

But fi­nally I re­al­ized that Mon­taigne was, in­deed, talk­ing about a rar­ity. Not just a friend, but a good friend. The good friend is one with whom you’ve shared an epiphany, cel­e­brated a tri­umph or two and, most prob­a­bly, suf­fered through a loss or tragedy. The good friend knows your faults but loves you any­way.

And that ex­cep­tion­ally rare trait — the will­ing­ness to be­friend with­out con­di­tion and to love with one’s whole heart the im­per­fect per­son, warts and all — that was what Mon­taigne was talk­ing about.

How for­tu­nate are those of us who have a good friend. This week­end my wife en­joyed a re­union with seven girl friends who’ve known each other since grade school but whom, due to cir­cum­stances of life, had grown apart. Shortly af­ter the 21st Cen­tury dawned one in­vited the oth­ers to visit her rus­tic cabin in Vir­ginia; upon ar­rival these grown women, who had not seen each other for decades, were ap­par­ently over­come with ado­les­cent be­hav­ior so re­mark­able that they de­cided upon an­nual sum­mer re­unions.

Sub­se­quent ren­dezvous have oc­curred from Mus­cle Shoals, Ala., to Boone, NC, Port­land, Ore. and, this week­end, Juli­ette, Ga.

Iden­ti­ties must be pro­tected here. But join­ing Louise down where “Fried Green Toma­toes” was filmed are Carol, Jackie, Mar­sha, Kathy, Rueshelle, Sharon and Patsy. And whereas there isn’t a lot to tear up in Juli­ette, you never know. Pic­tures ex­ist of a river raft­ing ex­cur­sion in North Carolina, and of a pris­tine beach set­ting in Ore­gon, but de­spite my years of sub­tle ef­forts, “what hap­pens at girl friend re­unions...stays at girl friend re­unions.”

So, be­fore she left Fri­day, I asked my wife what makes girl friend re­unions any more unique than, say, men gath­er­ing an­nu­ally at a fa­vorite hunt­ing lodge.

Louise talked to me about friend­ship. And love. The eight girls par­tic­i­pated in ath­let­ics, mu­sic or the arts, grew up in the same neigh­bor­hoods. There were sleep­overs back in the 1960’s, pleas­ant mem­o­ries from which al­low them to pick up where they left off.

There’s lots of gig­gling. Laugh­ing un­til your side hurts so bad you can’t breathe. Pil­low fights. Danc­ing to “oldies” mu­sic. And a tiara the girls pass fre­quently to whomever qual­i­fies as “Diva of the Moment.”

These good friends have shared life to­gether, even while parted. All mar­ried, some di­vorced, they raised fam­i­lies, loved and lost. And through it all, memo- ries and af­fec­tion for their good friends en­dured.

Last sum­mer two of the girls couldn’t get to Ore­gon. So the oth­ers fash­ioned life-sized cutouts bear­ing pic­tures of their faces and in­cluded them in group pic­tures ev­ery­where they went.

Good friends, in­deed, pos­sess a love so rare as to only come along ev­ery 600 years, yet abide through­out eter­nity.

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