A Friend Until the End

by Jay Fadden

There are a few phrases that have stuck with me like gum on a shoe from my early childhood. When I was in the 4th grade, I would often look at the clock because I wanted the class to end. I was a very active child, and school did not fit into my idea of fun. So I would look at the clock, counting the seconds till class ended. I would do this repeatedly and thus not pay any attention to what was being taught.

One day, I came in and plopped into the seat at my desk. I started to become distracted and, as was always the case, I looked up at the clock. The teacher had hung a sign that made me quickly turn back to the chalkboard, sit up, and focus on what she was teaching. The sign’s message was short and direct. It read, “Clock watchers beware. Time passes, will you?” I can still picture the clock and that sign over 40 years later, and now I smile thinking about it.

That teacher had a way with words, because she also taught me something else that I have never forgotten. I am a horrible speller. I am dyslexic, so that may have something to do with my spelling woes, or I may just not be that bright. In the 4th grade, I probably ranked 30 out of 30 kids in spelling. I was just bad at spelling. The teacher was teaching a new word, which happened to be “friend.” It can be a difficult word because of the i and the e. She had gone over the “i before e except after c” rule, but many in the class still did not get the word spelled correctly. I, of course, never got it right. It probably would have been better if I tried to spell it wrong.

The teacher never got frustrated that we could not spell “friend.” She stood in front of us and then shook her head as if she had an idea and turned away. She wrote the word “friend” on the chalkboard and stepped away. She said nothing, just looked at us, and we looked at her and then back to the chalkboard. What was she doing? Then, she went back to the board and drew a long line right through the middle of the word. She stepped away again and looked at all of us without saying a word. She certainly had our attention. The silence was awkward. We thought she was crazy! She then smiled at us and told us she was about to tell us a secret that would make us never spell “friend” wrong again. She said, “Just remember that you always have a friend until the end, E-N-D.” I have never spelled “friend” wrong again after that moment, nor have I ever forgotten what she said those many years ago. But it is not because of how the word is spelled — it is because I realized that she was right about the definition of the word.

Over our lives, we will have many acquaintances, but a true friend is different. A friend is kind and honest with you. When I write honest, what I mean to say is that a friend can say anything to you, no matter how difficult, because it comes from love. A friend is the person who stands beside you when others don’t. A friend understands your crazy moments and accepts them. Instead of hiding something, you yearn to tell your friends things because you trust them. Friends don’t judge, but counsel. Friends don’t condemn, but inform. When the phone rings and you see it is your friend, you smile or are relieved because you can share something with them. Friends do not need to be mirror images, but can be opposites. Friendship requires respect, dignity, hope, and love. Friendship is not always quid pro quo because it is much deeper than repayment. There are times that friendship can be a one-way street because one of the friends is suffering and needs more affirmation and support. Friends don’t keep score. They accept each other for who they are and love each other for all their quirkiness.

We are all different with gifts that define us. It is those gifts that make each of us special in our own unique way. Friends find that uniqueness endearing in each other, whether you are the quiet person, an artist, a sports person, a religious person, the loud guy, the comedian, the intellectual, the kind person, or a person with so many other wonderful personality traits that make you who you are today. Ultimately, friends love each other, which is the greatest gift of friendship. Just remember, you are a friend until the end with all the joy and challenges that come with the gift of friendship.