What Friends Can Do

As I have aged, I have seen many friends confront tragedy and felt helpless to be of service to them in their time of need. We have often been a part of our church’s efforts to provide meals and other forms of support, but I still get that feeling that I should be able to do more or say something more comforting.

I’m afraid I usually just say the things I’ve heard others say in similar situations.

Some years ago, I helped host some visitors from Croatia after they had hosted us in their country. We were treated so well during our visit that we went out of our way to make their stay with us memorable. The Mayor of Pazin was a particularly nice guy; so when he told me he enjoyed some western music I was playing on one of our tours, I promptly gave him the CD. He appreciated the gesture and said, “Can we just assume I’ve said “thank you” every time someone does something nice for us?” I knew exactly how he felt.

I have been blessed throughout my life by my association with a loving family and a large number of caring friends. I’ve learned that when you face a tragedy, it really doesn’t matter much what someone says as long as you know of their concern. Friends can’t make bad things go away or cure cancer, but their expression of concern is a reminder that whatever your loss, you still have people who support and believe in you. Like my friend the mayor, my gratitude for the gracious acts and expressions of support is a given.

Sometimes you can also find ways to be of real help when a friend is in need. During my early years as a city manager, I lost a very close friend when our police chief died suddenly in his mid-forties. I will always be grateful to his wife for giving us the chance to help out with a cleaning project and some woodcutting not long after his death.

Most o f us are not poets or trained counselors who know what will be most comforting to our family or friends when they are challenged. Taking the time to express support is usually enough. I have been reminded recently how important that can be as my family faces our own challenges. The phone calls and conversations with people who care have been greatly appreciated.

Celebrating Life

Earlier this week, I drove my wife to the romantic Weasku Inn between Rogue River and Grants Pass to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary. Previous getaways have included notable trips to Baker City, Wallowa Lake, Hood River, and, earlier this year, Neola, Iowa. Who needs Europe or Hawaii when we have so many nice (cheaper) places to visit close at hand?

Evelyn and I hiked some trails at the Oregon Caves National Monument (the cave is locked up until spring) before driving down to Crescent City, California, and visiting the Redwood National Park. We received some great advice from a young woman at the visitor center about taking the old stage coach route back toward Grants Pass. This unpaved road winds through the redwoods and includes a number of groves and trails worth visiting. These directions also took us by a derelict particleboard plant where I did inspections more than 30 years ago. It was sobering to see what had been a modern and productive plant reduced to a rusted pile of scrap metal. Old wood products plants always seem to burn down after they close.

I have come to believe that the best way to celebrate special occasions is to create memories, even if our adventures are relatively tame. Gifts can be nice, but what I really treasure is the time I’m able to spend with my wife and family. Our Thanksgiving celebration this year will be a little smaller than usual, as some of the family have health issues that limit traveling. Ours may be a movable feast that involves driving around the state to see important people. We have received too many reminders lately about how precious our time together is. When we face the greatest challenges, I think we have the greatest need to be together and share experiences.

Every day is probably a good day to take stock of our blessings, but the Thanksgiving holiday provides us with a special opportunity and lots of good things to eat. I’m sure that at least one of my sons will want to participate in the annual Turkey Bowl, where I have been the oldest participant the last few years. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same if I could walk normally in the week that follows it. I would like to extend my best wishes to all who read this column for a joyful Thanksgiving celebration. I plan to express some special appreciation to my wife, children, and grandchildren who routinely give me reasons to celebrate life.

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My annual ride with the City Council in this year’s Veterans’ Day Parade reminded me of Albany’s reservoir of goodwill for those who serve. While our biggest parade honors veterans, I was also touched by how many people expressed their appreciation to our Council for their current service to the community. We often hear from those who criticize and tend to forget the many people in town who appreciate their community and those who serve it.

There are countless ways that local residents serve others in this area, including activities that range from providing meals to the homeless to donating blood through the Red Cross. Volunteer coaches, mentors, library friends, United Way board members, city and county advisory commission members, church workers, and far too many other volunteer servants make our communities work and grow stronger every day. People in other countries are often shocked at how much work volunteers do in the United States.

I am sure there are many reasons why people are willing to give their time to important causes, but I think the common theme that unites these efforts is the healing power of service. I know I feel better about myself when I’ve done something positive for someone else, and I’ve learned to be appreciative when someone performs service for me. Keeping a positive outlook on life in a world where we are exposed to negative news every day, requires a sense of purpose and, most importantly, hope.

Many veterans risked or gave their lives in the interest of building a better future for their country, and I think it’s easy to forget what we are really celebrating every November 11. The date commemorates the end of “the war to end all wars,” and a return to peace that sadly lasted only 20 years. I would like to believe, however, that the sacrifices of all who have served have helped move us closer to a lasting peace. As difficult as it may be to believe, we are currently living in the most peaceful time in recorded history, despite the various conflicts around the globe.

Riding along Albany’s parade route allowed me to see the results of the sacrifices others have made on my behalf. We live in a place where we have reason to hope that our children will enjoy a decent education, relative security, and the chance for happy and productive lives. I try to frequently remind myself to be grateful for that privilege and to commit to behavior that will pass it on to future generations. Judging by the turnout at the parade and the attitude of those present, it’s nice to know most people around here seem to feel the same way.