Why are friends so special? And if we lose a friend, will we find another? These questions were posed by a colleague of mine who is distraught because her best friend of thirty years passed away.
Friendships do not fit into any one mold and sometimes they form, mysteriously, against all odds. A twelve-year-old boy with autism, Kyle, was asked by his eighty-two-year-old neighbor, Mr. Brown, if he could help do some odd jobs. What started out as a few mundane weekly chores like pulling the garbage can in and out, gradually grew to something else. Kyle did not talk much, had few friends and often slapped himself repeatedly in the head. He lived with his single mom and was an only child. Mr. Brown was a widower, loved to play chess and had a collection of World War II memorabilia. Eventually, Mr. Brown got Kyle interested in the game of chess. And life changed for both of them.
Most days after school, Kyle would go over to Mr. Brown's house. Together they played chess, talked about school and looked at World War II books. Kyle learned how to play a game, sit still, stop slapping himself and hold a conversation. Mr. Brown found a kind and curious companion at the end of his life and Kyle found a best friend that he never had as he entered his teenage years. Friendship has no age restrictions.
When my young horse, Sedona, became gravely ill and was on stall rest, two large ravens often sat on her fence rail. At first, I was surprised at the antics of these two huge birds, wondering what they were up to. But I could see that they would sit for long periods of time, shoulder to shoulder on the rail, while Sedona was lying down. Sometimes she would get up to greet them. Were these birds my horse's new friend? A routine was established, every morning and evening the two ravens spent time with my sick horse. One day I watched one of the ravens pick up little bits of apple that had fallen from our tree and fly over the barn, dropping them in Sedona's stall! A bird bringing my horse a treat? Friends fly to any heights to give us encouragement.
A woman in Cave Creek was hiking by herself about a mile from her car on a trail in Cave Creek Park. As she was walking on a clear, autumn day, she heard a whimpering sound from behind a bush. When she went to investigate she found a dog covered with blood lying on the ground just off the path. The dog, a fifty-pound mixed breed, was bleeding from the neck. The woman tied a sweatshirt around the dog and carried him for over a mile back to her car. When you weigh less than 120 lbs, carrying a 50-pound animal for a mile is no easy feat. She rushed him to the vet to find the dog had been shot and left for dead. That was three years ago and "Hope" is now healthy, happy and the woman's best friend.
An elephant sanctuary in Georgia has a 40-year-old elephant named Ella that one day befriended a stray dog. The dog and Ella ran to each other as though they were lost friends. They immediately kissed, cuddled and rolled together on the grass as if they had "found each other." The stray dog would not leave Ella, and eventually was allowed to stay with her. Called Sparkle, the dog goes for swims with Ella, sleeps with her at night and gets "trunk rides" as Ella walks around the sanctuary carrying Sparkle. Love at first sight? Or "old friends" from another life? We recognize our soulmates when we see them.
We had a baby girl at our house on Christmas Day. Named Anberlin, this one-year-old toddler was a big hit at the barn. Carried down to the pasture, the moment she got through the gate, four horses perked up and one went charging up to see what we were carrying. My mare, Princess, could not get enough of this sweet baby! Sniffing, nuzzling, kissing, rubbing... it was a true love-fest from the moment she saw the baby. So every time Anberlin was taken down to the barn, Princess ran to her as if she had a purpose! And the baby had only eyes for Princess, which made it difficult to separate them. For two days after Anberlin left, Princess would trot up to the fence by our house and stare longingly up at the gate, hoping for the baby to come back.
At Kyle's admission interviews to colleges, he likes to tell people that Mr. Brown saw something more in him than just an awkward boy. He saw him for the man he might become. And Kyle saw in Mr. Brown not just an elderly man, but as the person he used to be. The days after Sedona died, two grieving ravens sat in the Cottonwood trees and would squawk, "caw, caw, caw," over, and over again. For five days, they would call for their friend who had left them. Ella and Sparkle have found something special - each other. A woman can walk a mile with a dying dog without realizing he is heavy. And a horse and a baby girl can fall in love.
Time and attention are the currency of friendship. Once you are lucky enough to have a friend, it changes you forevermore. Friendships, like love, are the small treasures bestowed upon us that make life worth living. To witness love is as joyful as watching a raven communicate with a horse and as sorrowful as hearing his plaintive call when she is gone. It is as special as watching an elderly man see the future potential in a young boy. It is as brilliant as a sunny Christmas Day when a horse and baby nuzzle. And, Dear Readers, friendship can happen anywhere and at anytime... even on a pasture in Skull Valley.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.