Over the years, I have often reminded myself that I have been blessed with good friends. I continue to enjoy those blessings.
Blair and Jean have been a profound force in my life since they arrived in Taber on a hot sunny Alberta afternoon in 1968. Tumbleweeds weren’t rolling down this desolate prairie ghost town’s main street but it was pretty close.
Back home for the summer from first year university, I was working the rigs to scrape up enough money to pay for second year. They rolled into town in a canary yellow VW beetle with Quebec license plates, electrifying the place. They were exotic, creatures from another galaxy would have been less noticeable.
They had returned to work for Bud Olson, the local MP who changed parties to become a LIberal under it’s new leader, PierreTrudeau. Liberals were rare in Alberta, still are; Trudeau was even rarer. It did not look good for Bud even with Trudeaumania sweeping the country. Both Blair and Jean grew up in Taber, knew the risks and took on the challenge anyway, driving home from Ottawa with two small children to work for Bud.
Within days I was campaigning for Bud. We all motored down to Medicine Hat to see Pierre Trudeau speak. It was electrifying.
I worked with Blair and Jean over that summer and, in late June 1968, against all odds, Bud Olson won – by just over 200 votes. He joined Mr Trudeau’s cabinet and Blair and Jean went back to Ottawa. Blair became the Executive Assistant to the new Minister of Agriculture, Bud Olson.
My university career as an engineer was not going well at the time so, infected by the bug, I became a political junkie. I changed courses at university, saving myself and the engineering profession much embarrassment. I went to Carleton University for Grad school, I had to experience Ottawa.
Four years later, I worked on another campaign with Blair and Jean – this time in Edmonton. I met Michael Robinson that fall; he had been equally charmed, enticed and transformed by the magic elixir of politics and Blair and Jean. His life changed forever, he too was drawn to Ottawa, where he met his wife ML.
We spent a week together in Normandy with Michael and ML, blessed with warm memories, good food, great weather and much laughter. We watched the Tour de France, drove around Normandy, picnicked on the beach, visited village markets and walked the country lanes. We stayed up late and slept in late; we ate well and talked endlessly.
A few days in Paris allowed us to revisit that city and, joined by my daughter and her husband, share more stories and reminiscences.
Forty years or so has brought a few changes in our lives. We have grown children now, and there are more than a few grandchildren. We have had ups and downs in work but have all been blessed with enough good fortune to be comfortable as we approach retirement.
We’ve been through heartbreaking events in our lives – losses that would seem unendurable without the compassion and support of these friendships. In those dark times friends give us whatever we need to go on. We are not without our wounds, our scars and our losses but somehow we emerge on the other side with a depth and a strength that surprises us.
Throughout it all, the enduring constant has been these bedrock friendships, individually and as couples. We celebrate each others milestones; this time it was a 54th anniversary marked with Champagne and a full-bodied San Pellegrino.
Our children join in the extended family; they have lived their lives in the embracing halo of our friendships, enjoying richer experiences as a result.
We reminisce, dusting off old tales of derring-do, retelling them, exaggerating them a bit here and there as they age. We sit by campfires as we have in the past. We sit silently sometimes, conversation is often unnecessary.
We plan for the future; these meetings are not an end but a way station in our richly evolving lives. There will be more adventures, more shared experiences, more pain and loss, more of life happening while we are planning something else.
I am blessed with friends. They are role models; I have considered my life by the exemplary way they have lived theirs. They support, coach, offer advice, judge and withhold judgement.
They show me possibilities, challenge me to strive, offer me exemplars on how I might face my challenges. Their spirit travels me even when I haven’t seen them for months. They offer a compass bearing, a perspective and a point of view that informs every fibre of my life.
Just by knowing them so well, I am guided by their wisdom; I know what they would do in a situation and try to govern myself accordingly. They have caught me when I’ve fallen, picked me up, dusted me off and sent me back into the game. They’ve endured my idiosyncrasies and my faults and they love me anyway.
It is a blinding flash of the obvious, a cliche, a truism bordering on maudlin sentimentality, my friends have been the family I have chosen for myself.
Sometimes the best adventures are the adventures of friendship.