What Is A Best Friend Worth?

              Back in the fall of 1994, we were living aboard our sailboat in Ventura Harbor, California.  My wife had been offered a new position in Honolulu, and was scheduled to fly over the ocean with our young daughter.

            My job was to sail our home – our sailboat – to Hawaii.

            Coming from the mountains of Colorado, blue water sailing had always been more of a dream than a reality.  To say the least, I was excited to make the voyage.

            Unfortunately, however, there were major problems in finding crew.  Many voiced a willingness to go, but few could drop everything for three or four weeks and a trip across the ocean.  Of all those I asked, only one person jumped at the opportunity without hesitation.  And, no surprise: it was Fred, one of my best friends from college and years of skiing.

            As the day to cast off lines for Hawaii approached, an acquaintance from Ventura named Russ was also able to join us.  Although Russ, like myself, had never made an open ocean crossing, he did have some sailing experience.  My good friend Fred, on the other hand, had never spent a single day of his life sailing on the ocean.

            We set sail from Ventura on a Saturday with two full weeks left in October, at the tail end of hurricane season.  The voyage took twenty-one days, and nights, to finally make landfall in Honolulu.  On the crossing we caught mahi-mahi on hand lines, surfed the boat down enormous waves in the trades, and gazed upon the same billions of stars the ancients enjoyed before the proliferation of modern night lighting on land.

            Over the years, stories of that voyage have been retold many times.  And though I don’t mention it until the end, I always toss in how Fred had never once been sailing on the ocean before this crossing.

            Often, the response is something like: “You’re kidding; how did he do?”

            I always tell them he did great.  For Fred, it was simply a grand adventure.

            I usually add as well: “You know, some people are just like that, capable of accomplishing whatever they undertake.” 

            To which the listener normally acknowledges with a nod.  Yep, they’ve never met him, but they all know Fred.

            But that’s as far as I go; I don’t usually tell them the rest of the story.  I don’t usually mention how a year and a half after our ocean voyage to Hawaii, Fred was stricken down by Guilliam-Barre syndrome and how he nearly died.

            Guilliam-Barre is a relatively rare autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the nervous system.  For milder cases, there can be near total recovery and a return to normal life.  Unfortunately, Fred’s case wasn’t anywhere close to mild.

            In the beginning, Fred had to learn how to talk, as well as walk again.  It took years of excruciating and dogged rehab to do once more what he loved best – to go downhill skiing again.  From being able to step upon a boat and successfully sail across an ocean without a lick of experience, Fred had abruptly become incapable of nearly everything.

            And yet, there are a couple things everyone has noticed about Fred over the years since Guilliam-Barre struck.  Even if life dealt him a bad hand, he never gives up and he never complains.  Sure, he still falls down sometimes when he starts to walk, and often the numbness in his hands won’t tell him if it’s coins or keys in his pocket.  And the meds he must take every few hours for the blinding nerve pain are enough to tranquilize a horse.

            But Fred never gives up, and he never complains.  He plods forward in his own way, cheerful and gregarious with all he meets, strong and confident in spite of fate.  He has a happy marriage with a wonderful wife, grown kids to be proud of, and scores and scores of friends.  To me, Fred is still capable of anything.

*

            Now that I’m back in the mountains of Colorado, I’m fortunate enough to see Fred quite often.  I also come across old acquaintances and, by virtue of living in a ski town, meet many new folks as well.

            When asked what I do, I usually say something about finally being lucky enough to write full time, something I’ve wanted since all the years ago in college.  When they inquire what I write, I mention the novel about those with dementia and their caregivers.

            Invariably, I’m then asked if the reason I wrote it was because of something personal.

            I know what they’re asking, so I reply how my father had short-term memory loss problems before he passed away.  Most seem satisfied with that, so I don’t go any further.

            But I could.

            I could go into detail. I could tell them it’s personal because the story is really about Fred and how he faces each day with a gritty yet upbeat resolve in spite of the calamity that sideswiped his life.  Or I could tell them it’s personal because of Janice, my daughter’s art teacher in Hawaii, who selflessly sacrificed more than a decade of her own life to care for her mother with ever worsening dementia.

            Or I could tell them it was personal because of Tom, a young man severely debilitated by spina bifida to the point where mere walking had always been next to impossible; yet, by virtue of a strong will and deep determination, he was able to achieve the freedom of movement and joy on a ski hill that he’d never before experienced in life.

            Or if I knew these old friends or new acquaintances better, I could tell them it’s personal because I was writing about that someone in their life that is a Fred, a Janice, or a Tom.  I could tell them I wrote a book about dementia and caregivers, and yes, it’s personal because I see “ordinary” people triumphing over the worst adversity, only to become stronger and more advanced representatives of our human species.  And, personally, I admire that.

            On the flip side of the coin, even though my other book about the years spent working among the elite 1% in Hawaii has only been out a short time, I have yet to be asked – in the same way – if it was written because of something personal.  And honestly, I doubt I ever will.

            Yet if someone did inquire, I’d respond that memoir too is a result of something extremely personal.  In fact, the high and mighty 1% elite present an enormous affront to me precisely because they are everything Fred, Janice, or Tom – are not.  Yes, I take it just as personally when it comes to the 1%, as I do when it comes to my good friend Fred.

            One thing I’ve noticed over the years is when a lot is taken away from a person’s life – as in the case of a Fred, Janice, or Tom, or similar people you may know – much more is given back in another sense.  Whether it’s defined as strength of character, more depth of personality, or simply a bigger heart, these “losers” – even if they aren’t totally aware of it – unfailingly display an uncanny ability to give back much more to others than they’ve ever lost.

            The same is true, contrarily speaking, for those who have been given too much.  After all those years working with the moneyed and magnificent 1% in Hawaii, it’s evident to me that most of their assumed value and worth as humans is a façade.  Indeed, much has been given them by hard work, fate, or whatever – but much too has been taken.  Speaking in generalities obviously, their natures tend to devolve toward the sociopathic, while respect and concern for others dissipates.  Life becomes a ceaseless drive to take and take some more, to deplete those lesser for an illusory gain at the ultimate expense of oneself.  But that, as we all know, is an old story.

            I do take it personally, and personally, I’ll always take someone like Fred.

            When it comes to one’s best friends, I doubt I’m much different from anyone else.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to be around them, even as you’re simultaneously awed by what they’ve been through and wonder if you could measure up.  All too often they are people you could never be – and yet, they are always kind enough to treat you as their equal.

            One’s best friends are of inestimable value.

            That’s what they’re worth.

 

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Comments

  1. I don’t recall when or why I added your site to my Google Reader but I’m glad I did. This is a wonderful post. As a retired cafeteria manager I have spent my post-retirement years among seniors learning what to expect in my own future. Five years in the dining room of a retirement community (with thirty-five years in food management I could wait tables in order to have health insurance) got me and my wife within striking distance of Medicare, I have just passed four years as a non-medical caregiver working through an agency. The money is not good but it gives me discretionary income, but the main benefit has been the experience of observing and taking part in the lives of people mostly in their declining years.

    Your descriptions of the people in the post resonate with what I have observed as well. With some exceptions most people come to terms with their circumstances pretty well. My observation of the public helped me get over the notion that getting old makes us cranky. In a few cases that may be true, but age seems to make us more brittle, but not necessarily more disagreeable. Whatever we are in younger years is what we can expect to be in old age. The sweet old people were once sweet young people. The cranky old people were cranky and disagreeable all their lives; it just got worse with age. There are exceptions, of course, for stroke, dementia and other clinical problems, but that is the conclusion I have reached.

    I wish you well with your new book. I would like to tell you I’m ordering one but to be candid I not only don’t have time to read books as I once did and in this case I think I would already be in the choir. I do hope that somewhere in your exposition of the self-absorbed top One Percent you were able to make a pitch for advance directives for medical care. That is a cause for which I have become almost evangelistic. I think all Medicare beneficiaries should be obliged to execute an advance directive as part of becoming a beneficiary of that tax money, and copies should be accessible, on file and updated every five years, with all named agents verified and in agreement to be agents. That’s a fantasy, of course, but I toss it out every chance I get.

  2. Love It!!! Thanks for the Inspiration I toO have met with a trajic accident. Rendered me Quaddraplegic incomplete, see I got my arms BACK! I am Blessed to still be alive. I use my Twitter page to make Dreams Come True! When I look back on my Life Every Mountain I have Climbed is but a Grain of Sand Behind. ME… #Muchluv #EveryOneMatters #2Luv

  3. I just bought your book on kindle, I hope itis written with the warmth of your post that lead me here. thank you.

  4. Nice article. Wish I could say I am more like Fred. I can’t say that I never complain, though I know that I tend to do so less every day. In August 2010 I was crushed near death in a horrible auto crash that nearly destroyed my business and my reputation. I allowed myself no more than 3 days till I was back to work. The pain resulting from my injuries is terrible but I have never allowed myself to make excuses that might cause me to lose my momentum. Even losing my last venue in July 2011
    and becoming estranged from my lady for a year, somehow did not destroy me
    but made me work that much harder and
    become that much stronger. Today my work is paying off and I now hab

  5. Jeanabella says:

    Reading & liking your 1% book on kindle and came across this piece from twitter! I’m taking care of Mom (93yrs) who has never been ill until 2 months ago. I feel lucky to have been able to take this care for her as my new job. It’s amazing how life does prepare you for things you would never think you’d do. In 1988 one of my sons had an accident & at age 20 he became quadriplegic. I learned how to help take care of him & his needs and that training enables me to help Mom. My son is married & has a son & takes care of his own needs on a daily basis. He has done the Boston Marathon as well as Miami & L A CA. His attitude is like your Fred’s as is my Mom’s outlook. She feels blessed even in light of heart failure & a changed lifestyle. She’s right! Attitude is everything.

  6. Thank You, Great read!!

  7. Wonderful. Really enjoyed reading this!

  8. Charlotte Byrams says:

    Heartfelt and real. The genuineness brought tears to my eyes:)

  9. Awesome!!! Great piece!

  10. What a great read. Those people and moments that enable one to decipher what is of consequence are memorable for many reasons indeed. How fortunate we should be to live a life as gracefully.

  11. Mike- It’s good to see regular people writing about the things that matter, the things that touch us all. I will be purchasing your book!
    Dr. Chuck

  12. I live in an area of Florida where there are a large number of 1% people. Their idea of “helping” is having a black tie, formal with ticket prices of at least $250. That is high enough to keep the 99% away so the atmosphere won’t be spoiled. 90% to 95% of the money collected is spent on the party, leaving a tiny sum for the charity they are “supporting”. But they have a great party and feel so good about themselves for helping the “little people”. I’m sure the 99% are contributing just as much or more to charities in real dollars, but don’t get the tax deduction for those big dollar tickets. But the 1% are always quick to tell you that they are the most generous people in the country. Some truly are, but without tax write-offs the 1% would contribute little. I look forward to reading about your experiences with the 1%. Thanks for the story of Fred. That is an inspiring story.

  13. Jim Hoyt says:

    Truer words were never spoken, Mike. I, too, know Fred. Almost everyone knows Fred (or someone like him), and most everyone who does, loves him. And that’s the way it should be.

    Healthy or disabled, the Freds of the world shine through. They project an aura that is so warm and comfortable that it draws people near. They give many more times than they get and they do it without thinking or expecting anything in return.

    While few of us have what it takes to be a Fred, we should all embrace those who do. Who knows – maybe, just maybe, some small part of it will rub off on us.

  14. Maryl McAffry says:

    I suppose some sort of karma led you to include me in the list of recipients, because beyond Fred’s story I found a reassurance that I might survive the bad time I’m experiencing now. The ability of humans to survive personal devastation amazes me, and just as I am in awe of Fred I’m fairly impressed to realize that I too have endured the past year.
    I hope your books are available in hard cover. Thank you. I’ll be passing on this inspiring piece of writing.
    Maryl

  15. Morna Clark says:

    Thank You so much for including this insert to my name. I learn from this that I need not talk of my PTSD or of my sisters mental dissabilities. Because we do see so much more than we think we do. I take care of my sister just as much as she does me. We have each other and learn not to see each others faults. I bless you for Fred and all others in our lives, like him…

  16. Gail Gentile says:

    1. The first time I sailed was a blue water delivery from Galveston to St. Thomas. It was December, we ran up on a reef at 3 am off the coast of Cuba, and limped into Key West to look at the damage. I vomited for 7 days, grabbed my gear and jumped off that boat and flew back to St. Thomas. Never looked back.
    2. My most wonderful dad had a brain injury at 86, two surgeries, and dementia. My mother loved him and took care of him even after he had a stroke and became someone I could have never imagined, even as it wore her down, all the while battling thyroid cancer. I witnessed true love and devotion between two wonderful people, and after two failed marriages have never come close.
    3. Can’t wait to read your book(s)

  17. It is Fred’s unmitigated resolve in that there is nothing out there in this world that can or will defeat his wonderful spirit.

    His infectious laugh, his outlook on life, his personal tragedies, his exhilarating moments of flying down the side of a mountain, his offerings to others, his love of life and his love of those around him are only a few of the qualities that make up the man we know as FRED.

    Experience, who needs experience? It’ just on the job training to our Freddy. If there is anybody that read the book, “The Little Engine That Could,” and applied the moral of that story to one’s life it has been Fred.

    He is what we all should aspire to be in a FRIEND!

  18. Great blog and insight into a really great friend. Not to repeat the obvious, but friends like Fred are worth more their weight in gold(or dollars for those 1% ers).
    Mike, you are to be congratulated on taking the time to remind people that there really are some great people in this world. People like Fred help us realize it’s not always about us, but rather it’s about helping other people, being a great friend and even though life has thrown him some lemons, he still makes lemonade everyday of his life. Keep us posted!

  19. I have the extreme pleasure of knowing Fred Moore. Feel in love with him as a matter of fact many, many years ago and had the wonderful experience of having a smile or laughing all the time when I was with him and his crazy friends-(Mike Penny, Capt America etc.)
    Fred attracts people to him like a bee to honey. he always has a great attitude and a smile on his face and no matter what life deals him, he is up for it.
    Good work on describing such a great guy!

  20. Portersgroves Raven says:

    Your article on Fred was so touching. It is one of many similar stories that should be told often. Not because we should feel sorry for the Fred’s of the world, but to inspire and give hope to others. Many many people are feeling disillusioned wih the world today. Your story gave me a positive warm feeling about the strength and resilency of human kind. Thanks.

  21. manalswalha2 says:

    So inspired thank you

  22. Glad I finally clicked on the link in your intriguing Tweet. I ‘d been thinking about the question every time I came upon it. This is a terrific story, Mike. Thanks for sharing it.

  23. Beautifully written. Why our society puts those 1% on a pedestal and sees their lives as something to be aspired to and envied is beyond me. Quality of character is worth so much more. Those that are Freds or have Freds in their lives are much richer than any of those 1%. Thank you for the heartfelt reminder.

  24. Thank you.

  25. What a fabulous story. Best friends are truly priceless. I know my life would be so much less if I didn’t have my best friends. Thank you for sharing!

  26. Lorraine Anit says:

    THANK YOU MIKE. I have 5 reasonably healthy siblings.One recently diognosed with rare, dibilitating, incurable, auto immune disease called schleroderma. Your story of Fred touched my heart and impacted my life. I can relate totally, as my sister is also amongst the 1%. We must continually rally, bring about awareness, educate, encourage and support our loved ones who battle courageously their plight to overcome disease. The memory of their contributions, purpose, sacraficial gifts to us are invaluble indeed.All the more, make our life much more rich!

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  1. [...] What Is A Best Friend Worth? From mikepenney.com (via @BethSteger) – Today, 9:27 AM Best friends: All too often they are people you could never be – and yet, they are always kind enough to treat you as their equal. (RT @mfpenney: What Is A Best Friend Worth? [...]

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