Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Marilyn and I have lived most of the last 15 years in central Florida, and for the most part we love it here. This time of year, however, always makes me yearn for North Carolina, because autumn is coming- but not to Florida! Football season is over before the weather cools off; the leaves rarely give you much color before falling; and wearing white (or swim suits) after Labor Day is just not a big deal! I notice this all the more because some of my favorite memories of growing up in the New Garden Friends youth group are of our annual autumn trip to Fancy Gap, VA, and Sam Levering's apple orchard. The weather there would always be crisp and cool, and we loved it.
Sam Levering was an amazing man. He and his family ran this huge orchard, but he also spent half the year in Washington, DC, helping to represent Quakers in the formation of policy. He spent a number of years helping to draft The Law of the Sea Treaty. I could spend many days writing about Sam (there are books about him!) but today I am focusing on his orchard. We would go and stay in a house built for migrant apple pickers. We would pick apples, sing songs, eat granola (with applesauce) and spend hours together in the sunshine and under the stars, just hanging out and becoming the best of friends. At the time, so many things seemed important, and if you had asked me then what I remember about Sam's place I would have told you about the girl I had a crush on, or the long walks and talks with my best friend Steve, or that the first song I ever wrote was written there. But looking back, Sam's place was at the heart of my relationship with my other best friend from those years- Beth. We also had long walks and talks; we sat out under the amazingly star-filled sky many nights just sharing our dreams, our fears and our joys. We would have marathon back rub sessions (the whole group always did, including the time Becky was sleep talking about saving a tree). I would whine about girls, and she would listen and comfort me. Every relationship would feel stronger after a weekend away at Sam's, but Beth and I always managed to keep it going and build on it. There was a time when no one knew or understood more about me than Beth...and I was very comfortable with that.
There were a few times when things almost got romantic between us, but (for better or for worse) we always managed to avoid that pitfall. I asked her to my senior prom (she was a year younger) just days after she had accepted another invitation from the guy she would marry a few years down the road. (Talk about your what ifs...) And still we remained the best of friends. I would visit her at college quite often, and we held each other's hands through some tough times there. I went to play cards at her place one night and met a young woman named Marilyn Steele there, although Beth's roommate Denise gets the credit for introducing us. I sang in her wedding, and was thrilled to have her at ours. When we moved to Florida, Beth and I lost touch, like so many people do as years go by. But when my dad died in 2006 and we had a memorial service for him at New Garden, she and Bob were there, along with so many of our friends from the old days. And just like it had always been, as soon as I saw Beth I knew everything was going to be ok.
I have lived a life that has allowed me to be touched by hundreds of people in meaningful ways. There have been others with whom I have shared more experiences, and certainly my incredible wife now knows me best, and loves me anyway. But in those teen years, when everything seems so important and so difficult, Beth was always there. So many times over my years of ministry I have prayed that kids in my groups would find friends like Beth, Tammy, Steve, Lisa, Carl and the rest. And I am not sure I ever said "thank you." So "thank you," Beth, for being there for me. I am not sure who wrote these words, but they seem so appropriate I will quote them anyway: "The miles may separate as life goes along, but the bond between friends will remain ever strong." And I know, each time I pray and each time I think of all of those incredible people in that youth group who changed my life, that because of Jesus our time together is not over. I wonder what Wild Thing will sound like in heaven...
Because of Jesus,