Thursday, January 28, 2016

Relationships - A Tribute to my Friend

[ The following is the text of a speech I gave at Toastmasters back in September 2015 about relationships. Today, on the birthday of my dear friend, Beth, I post this in honor of her. I miss her. ]

My friend, Beth, and me at Barnes & Noble. October 2014

Over the last several months, I have been thinking a lot about relationships. During this time, interesting articles and inspiring quotes have come to me, helping me ponder the relationships in my life. Today, I will share three of these quotes with you.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn.
When I first read this quote, I was quick to dismiss it, because I disliked it. But it kept gnawing at the back of my mind, demanding more attention. So I revisited it and reconsidered its meaning. I realized I hated the quote because I did not want to be the average of the five people I spent the most time with. Because they were negative, angry, and selfish people. Why was I even spending time with them? Well, frankly the relationships were a matter of circumstance and chance. I had not consciously chosen these relationships. I wondered what five traits would I want other people to associate with me? So I made a list. I want to exemplify the following traits … I want to be 1) kind 2) sincere 3) grateful 4) happy and 5) healthy. Then I asked myself, what people do I already know who personify these traits? I made another list of five people. One of the people on this list was my good friend, Beth Suhr. The thought came to me that I should call her right then, invite her to lunch, ask her how she’s doing, but I thought of my looming to-do list, and I decided I would call her tomorrow. That would be easier. Tomorrow came, and I forgot to call her.

“Don’t live like you were dying … live like they were dying.” – unknown
Several days later, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I came across a post by Eric Rhodes. It was a variation of this quote, and I sat back in my chair and thought about it for a few minutes, considering the dynamic shift. If I were to live like I was dying, I’d eat chocolate Haagen-Das ice cream, go camping, and spend time with my children, because that’s what I enjoy doing. But if I were to live like you were dying, I’d ask you what your favorite dessert is, what you like to do for fun, and what I can do for you. The dynamic shifts from selfishness to charity and kindness. So make a new list. Who would you want to spend more time with, if you knew they were going to die soon? Less than two hours after reading this post from Eric, I received a phone call from a complete stranger telling me that my friend Beth was receiving hospice care. When I hung up the phone, I was overcome with a variety of emotions. 1) Relief: I was glad that Beth was receiving hospice and not already dead. I still had time. 2) Anger: I was so angry that I had not called her sooner. I had thought of her multiple times over the last several months. I knew that I should have called her and taken her to lunch, but I had been too busy. I had failed her. 3) Selfish: I felt extremely selfish, because I had listed Beth as one of the five people I wanted to spend more time with so that I could become a better person. 4) Regret: I could have been a better friend to her. I could have done so much more. I phoned Beth and got her answering machine. I left a completely incomprehensible message, because I was a blithering idiot. She called me back a few hours later, and we had a nice conversation on the phone. She invited me to her Celebration of Life party that she was having later that weekend.

“Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” – Mother Teresa.
As I prepared to attend Beth’s Celebration of Life party, I wondered, what can I take? What can I say? What can I do? What should I wear? So I googled Celebration of Life parties to learn what the proper protocols were, since I’d never attended one of these events before, but really, the only thing I learned was that most of the women in the pictures wore dresses. So I put on a skirt and headed out to the party. When I arrived, Beth’s husband Dave wrapped his arms around me and thanked me for coming. Then he said, “Your son wrote us the most amazing letter. It was really incredible and meant so much to us. Thank you.” I went and sat with Beth and had a nice conversation with her, during which she clutched my hand and said, “Oh, Jacob wrote the most beautiful letter. It really touched my heart and it meant so much to me.”  Later when I was mingling with the other guests, Beth’s daughter, Cheryl, came up to me and said, “Oh, your son wrote the most incredible letter. It was wonderful. Would you like to read it?” Of course, I said. As I followed her into the kitchen, I couldn’t help but imagine this incredible, amazing letter. I pictured a huge framed piece of artwork that had been embellished and embossed with the eloquent words written in beautiful calligraphy … because that would match the way they had described this letter to me. Cheryl grabbed a piece of paper off the counter and handed it to me. It was a folded piece of loose leaf notebook paper. Very ordinary. My son had written in his normal, ordinary handwriting using a basic black ball point ink. There was no calligraphy. The letter read, “My dear beloved Beth …” The sentences were simple. The thoughts were concise as he wrote about memories he had of Beth and things he appreciated about her. The entire letter took up only about half of that sheet of paper. It was a perfectly ordinary thing done with extraordinary love. And it touched that family. What types of ordinary things could you do to express your love to the people that matter most in your life? It could be a simple text telling someone that you’re thinking of them, that you appreciate them. You could cut flowers from your yard, stick them in a Mason jar, and hand deliver them to someone. Whatever it is … do something.

As you consider the relationships in your life, I challenge you make conscious choices, because you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Don’t live like you were dying … live like they were dying. And finally, do ordinary things with extraordinary love, because people matter. Nurture the relationships with people in your life.
Beth's Celebration of Life Party


  1. Beautiful and very inspiring! Thanks for sharing it. Now I'm off to tell my husband how much I love and appreciate him. :-)

  2. That was a beautiful msg. Thanks so much for sharing from your heart. I lost a dear dear long distance friend last year, and regretted all the cards I "thought" about sending to her, she was in perfect health, and then boom, her 80+ years caught up with her and she was gone. I still ache at how many things I "almost" did - we had the friendship that you could catch up in 5 min and it would be like you were never apart, but I was so busy the last few years of her life. That ache will never go away. I have tried since then to DO the kind things that pop into my head but somehow never get done. Thanks for sharing this. :)

  3. Beautifully written, and I imagine, beautifully spoken. You inspire me to catch up those friendships I have let slide.