These friends really shine

Published 11:59 pm Friday, June 5, 2009

I was wandering around the airport in Dallas, killing time by browsing in gift shops while waiting for the flight that would bring me home, when a knick-knack with a clever saying caught my eye.

“Good friends are like stars … You don’t always see them, but you always know they are there.”

There couldn’t have been a better punctuation mark with which to end this trip.

Five years ago, some growing-up friends and I made a similar trip to Dallas. Our friend John had just been “under the knife.” It was pancreatic cancer, most often deadly.

That trip was impromptu, sort of a “we don’t know what the future holds so let’s go now,” kind of thing. We decided quickly one weekend, booked some tickets, called in our short-notice absences and headed west. We planned no further than getting to a hospital room in Dallas, and none of us will ever forget the looks on the nurses’ faces as we paraded down the hall, each rolling a suitcase behind us. Nor will we forget the time we spent visiting with each other and our Texas friend.

Later, we learned that a doctor had given him 1 in 3 odds of not surviving the surgery. Miraculously, the disease was encapsulated in the tumor; no follow-up treatment needed.

That reunion was the first of many. Later that year, we were together again in our old stomping grounds on the banks of the Pea River. Last fall, we marked another milestone: 25 years since we moved the tassels.

We played triangles and wooden blocks in the little rhythm band at Jack and Jill Kindergarten; proudly had our pictures made with a diploma beside the lollipop tree when it was time to graduate to first grade. We became readers and writers under the tutelage of the same teachers, moved to middle school and joined another band, this time playing expensive instruments our parents bought.

Later, we girls cheered from the bandstands as these boys grew into athletes. We took the ACT on the same Saturday, graduated and went separate ways to college. Still, we spent time together on holidays and in the summer.

Then we graduated again, got busy building our grown-up lives, and spent less and less time together until a scary, potentially life-ending diagnosis changed that.

Last weekend, we were together again; invited to Texas to celebrate John’s five-year anniversary as a pancreatic cancer survivor. When he sent word by e-mail that he was inviting us to Texas for the party, no one hesitated.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I wrote back.

But he already knew that. For you see, good friends are like stars … you can’t always see them, but you always know they’ll be there.