Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 26, 2011


Tell your friends you care about them before they go to heaven


      During this journey called life I have been blessed with many wonderful friends. Two strong feelings emerge as I reflect on this.  One, I am profoundly thankful that most of my friends have not given up on me. Two, I feel a deep sense of regret for having failed to express to my friends how much they meant to me.

          One of my best friends was Bill Parks. His first name was not William; his real name was Billy Wren Parks. We roomed together at Auburn. He was the best man at our wedding. After college we drifted apart. He was absorbed in engineering; I in theological studies. Our only contact for many years was the exchange of Christmas cards.

Eighteen years after finishing at Auburn, I was assigned to serve a church in Mobile where Bill had settled down as an engineer. We renewed our friendship. I soon discovered that Bill was not only a good engineer, he was a good man. He and his family were faithful members of a Presbyterian Church in which he was highly respected. It felt good to enjoy Bill’s friendship again.

Though we moved from Mobile a few years later Bill and I stayed in touch. The clock kept ticking until one day we invited our friends to come celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Bill came but his coming was laced with sadness I found no way to express. Bill did not remember attending our wedding even though he has been my best man. We laughed halfheartedly about his memory lapse but inwardly I wanted to cry.

 Not long after that the telephone rang with shocking news; Bill was dead. A pulmonary embolism had killed him.

Months before the phone call I had thought a lot about Bill – that I should tell him how much his friendship meant to me. Now, the chance to do that was gone forever. His family asked me to assist with his funeral. I did and shared my love and respect for Bill. But all the while my soul was troubled. I had failed to share my feelings for my friend before he died.

Remorse can teach us valuable lessons. One is that friends are important. Healthy living would be quite impossible without good friends. Our world is not “user friendly” to hermits.

In a town I once lived in, two men who were brothers lived in a dilapidated old house. The story was that they had no friends and did not want any. When a neighbor told me they were sick one winter, I went to see them.

          One appeared when I knocked on the door. He did not seem happy to see me. I said, “I understand you and your brother have been sick. I brought you some vegetable soup and cornbread.” I was surprised when he said, “Come on in; my brother is in the kitchen.” To my amazement, debris covered the hallway. The path through trash was hardly a foot wide. Empty cans, bottles, boxes, and paper seemed a foot deep right on into the kitchen.

          I put the soup and cornbread on the dirty kitchen table and asked how they were feeling. “We are better,” they said, “just a bad cold or maybe the flu.” They did not seem impressed with my gift of soup and cornbread. Feeling uncomfortable, I soon excused myself, but not before asking them to call me if I could help in any way.”

          I never heard from them again. I have wondered many times what I might have done to win their friendship. Apparently, long before I met them, they had decided they did not need other people. Most of us do. There is a great truth in the words of a popular song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” How true I have found that to be.  

          On my desk is a little plaque my wife gave me for an anniversary years ago. It did not cost much but it is priceless to me. On it are two rabbits embracing. Beside them are the words, “We Need Each Other.” It meant so much for Dean to say with that simple gift, “I need you.”

          When we are angry or depressed  we often retreat into a shell of indifference, pretending we do not need other people. In so doing, we hurt only ourselves, allowing apathy to suppress love. This goes against the grain of our nature for we were made for love. When we refuse to love we are resisting the very purpose for which we were created.

          Loving others is impossible, of course, unless we are willing to forgive, and not once, but repeatedly. The fact that there are no perfect people makes forgiveness an absolute necessity for healthy living. Our family members, and our friends, will disappoint us, but we can forgive, and friendships can be renewed.

          Whatever heaven will be like, I pray there we will have the opportunity to say to our friends what we neglected to tell them down here. Until then, grace makes our regret bearable because grace helps our friends to understand. True friends are like that and their gift of understanding is one of life’s greatest treasures. + + +