The Blessings of True Friendship

By Steven A. Hitz, Founding Director
Author of Launching Leaders

December 7, 2020

“Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.”

–Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 11, 1945–

I learned the true value of friendship from our son Skyler who had many friends over the years—I don’t know of anyone who knew Skyler who didn’t love him.  As you have read in this blog and other publications, Skyler succumbed to the demons of the day in August and died by suicide after giving it his all.  Two of his childhood friends showed up without solicitation to join the family in helping us address Skyler’s affairs (cleaning out his home and getting it ready to sell, shipping off his belongings to loved ones, selling things to assist his wife in this arduous transition).  These two friends loved Skyler unconditionally. Ian “Baggs” Bagley and Kyle House were these friends.  When they heard of Skyler’s passing, they made their way from Utah (Kyle) and South Carolina (Baggs) and showed up at the house to assist.  They left their jobs and family to be there. I said to Ginger early in this process, “Who does this?  Who leaves their own world and family behind to come to the aid of a dead friend’s family?”  Ginger replied, “Angels do.”  I shall ever be grateful for the example they set in what a true friend is.  They said, “Skyler would do the same for us.”

There is a movie clip from Tombstone that Skyler shared with Kyle:

One of the boys says to the ailing Doc Halliday; “Doc, you oughta be in bed, what the hell you doing this for anyway?”  “Wyat Erp is my friend” he says.  To which the wrangler replies, “Hell, I got lots of friends”, to which Doc replies, “I don’t”.

True friends are few and far between.  For Baggs and Kyle, Skyler was their friend; for Skyler, they were his.

When Baggs drove home after dropping Kyle off at the airport—after a week of serving, the grief hit him hard.  The finality of leaving Skyler’s house after packing it up was difficult.  He always talked to Skyler while driving; now who will he call??  What now?  Baggs said “Skyler set the high bar of being a true friend—that is a legacy we can try to emulate.”  That is exactly right—-we honor Bear (Skyler’s nick name) by the way we befriend our friends and serve others.

In that spirit, I have thought deeply about the value of true friends, and vowed after witnessing what true friends do, to emulate what I have learned.

There are three types of friends: True friends, assigned friends, and fake friends.  I’ve had all three.  Let me comment on each type briefly.

True friends: they respond spontaneously and reach out just “because.”  They are willing to serve, be present, and go the extra mile without being asked.  They actually desire to serve because they love.  There is no hidden agenda.  The relationship goes far beyond the surface and is founded on solid bedrock—immovable.

Assigned friends: are touching base to fulfill an assignment or check off the box (think of a fellowshipping assignment in your church or organization).  Not all bad, and sometimes these assignments result in lasting true friendships, but often they end when assignments cease.  Think of businesses where clients and customer service are “matched up.” They are friends as long as the relationship benefits the other financially.  Usually nothing more lasting.

Fake friends: are those who go through the motions because there is something in it for them.  Their cousin is “assigned friends”, but the depth of artificial is as fake as the mannequin in the store front.  It can appear real, but it’s not.  You know the type; they chum up to you in public places to be seen and could care less about you—-they are just using you to get to their destination.  Today’s technology offers up legions of fake friends where adding a friend to your life is as easy as a click; and just as easily one can de-friend or cancel a relationship with a click as well.  Very sad really. There are lots of fake friends out there—I pray I’m NEVER one of them.

In the spirit of being a true friend, wonderful opportunities present themselves that in my opinion are not coincidental.  True friendship gives opportunities to serve and be served.  Let me share one recent example. 

My friend and co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide, Terry Pitts, invited me to accompany him to fulfill something on his bucket list—to become an ocean certified sailor.  We both had sailed for years in our earlier lives, but never on the ocean.  We both had hung up the spurs on this endeavor long ago, but Terry, now in his 70’s, decided to not let life pass him by.  As I mentioned, I don’t have that many friends, so I said “sure, game on.” 

Steve & Terry

For months prior, we each enrolled in an on-line school prior to our arrival to Fort Myers, Florida.  There, we were introduced to a new friend, and sailing partner from Ohio, Nick Fry, whose life was also that of being an entrepreneur, and who decided also that life was about the experiences not just the destination.

I had not realized that after my son’s passing, I had insulated myself in a cocoon of despair which paralyzed me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.  Now, on a 40 foot catamaran, we three were sailing a half million dollar vessel we didn’t own, and had exactly one week of training to chart and navigate a destination, anchor in the ocean overnight, and return safely to the harbor home of the boat we were sailing.  On this journey we applied our recently acquired skills, trusted each other at our various posts, and had an experience of a lifetime.

With my son’s passing, I could have easily phoned up Terry and said I wasn’t going to make it after all.  But after witnessing how true friends behave, there is NO WAY I would let down my friend. And I also believe that since Terry is a true friend, he was doing this as much for me than for him. I told my wife a few times between our sons passing and the weeks that followed before the scheduled sailing school that I just didn’t feel up to going.  She reminded me of the angel friends who attended to our son.  It was my choice—-would I roll in my grief or arise and decide to live life the way my son did?

I chose to live, to honor a friend’s request.  Day by day on the sailing ship, my cocoon unraveled, and my grief melted by the kindness of my old friend and my new friend.  This was just what I needed to move forward and to thrive.  I needed to experience true friendship.

Charting our course
Enjoying the fare

The sailing course was very difficult, and I had a hard time focusing.  Simple things became hard and big things became impossible.  I would take three times longer to take a test than my mates; but when it came to crunch time, they were NOT going to let me fail.  They mentored and tutored me across the finish line.  “We are not leaving this place unless we are ALL captains” they said.  I was humbled and grateful.

A transformational experience

You can tell from the contentment in my face, that this experience was transformational to me.  Not just because we all became “captains” and certified ocean sailors, but because we experienced something that occurs when those friends you are with are not there for a photo op or because they are assigned, or that they are faking a relationship to get ahead.  No, the peace and contentment that came over me was because we were experiencing what true friends do—a caring relationship without an agenda.  It was fun too!

On this sailing trip, each morning at sunrise I would leave my quarters and sit on the bridge and meditate.  I wrote down lessons I learned from the sailing trip, which actually apply to true friendship:

  • It’s the journey, not the destination
  • Teamwork requires charity
  • No one succeeds alone—ever
  • Communication is key—be teachable and listen more than you speak
  • Act decisively—if you delay you could end up in “irons” or “heaving to the wind”
  • Practice—over and over again.  Create the instinctive patterns to succeed
  • Friends and relationships are the most important part of the journey.  They equal the joy of the journey.  Cherish them.
  • Everyday is thankfully different, requiring a different tack.  If you are not changing course—you miss out on opportunities
  • Stuff happens—put the wind back in your sails and move forward—learn from the experiences

I am thankful for true friends and vow to be one myself.  We can all learn to be true friends—we can add to the richness of our lives.  I have received unsolicited texts and messages from true friends regarding our loss; and also, many who have reached out to check in on us—not because there were assigned, but because they love us.  A few have paid us a visit unannounced.  Thank you all.  It’s time to loosen up and get off of our merry-go-rounds of doing the required stuff each day and seek experiences that allow life to be lived to the fullest.  That is something that has taken me too long to learn.  My wife is grateful I am learning it now.

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