Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

March 3, 2012

It’s useless to hide, for someone will find you

A friend once asked me to write about friends. “Friends?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “You know what I mean. FRIENDS.”

I knew what he meant and did what he asked. What he thought about it, he never has said ... nor have I asked. It’s the type of thing guys don’t discuss except under special circumstances.

A few years ago, at the very hour he was undergoing an operation that would either restore his life or kill him, I ran into a mutual friend.

We decided to have a couple of drinks. Actually, we had a lot of drinks. We talked about our buddy and called each other “Brother.” We also talked about matters we’d never discussed before and haven't talked about since.

This is a phenomenon women refer to as “a guy thing,” and that’s precisely what it is.

The operation renewed our friend’s life and, in the company of his wonderful wife, he has been enjoying every day of it to the absolute maximum.

He was the first one I called to tell about Bill Shipway.

For a long time, I’ve tried not to let anyone get too close to me. It’s purely a defense mechanism, and anyone who’s had experiences similar to a few I’ve never quite gotten over would understand why I’ve resorted to it.

Call it a cold, hard place I can retreat to if I must — a wall, or simply a door I can lock and hide behind.

It’s come in handy at times, but recent developments have shown me it hasn’t always worked. I now find that any number of people have managed to sneak up on me and burrow their way deeply and permanently into my heart.

That includes Bill, his wife Debbie and their sons Brian and Jeremy ... as well as a relatively new friend who has put up her own wall for reasons I can appreciate.

She recently left town to take a new job, and we are a lot alike in some ways. She’s been an incredible friend who thanks me for making her smile, and she has helped me to start looking out from behind my own wall. One of these days, I’ve told her, something is bound to happen that will free her to do the same.

Bill and I became friends under unusual circumstances: Debbie is one of my numerous ex-girlfriends. I was 26, and it ended the day she told me she was only 17.

Today, if I want to raise her hackles, I call her “Jailbait.”

Several years ago I walked into their restaurant — The Royal in Keyser, W.Va. — and Debbie and I recognized each other immediately.

“Goldy!” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m hungry,” I told her. “What are you doing here?”

“My husband and I own this place,” she said.

The Royal quickly became one of my favorite haunts. Before long, Bill and I were exchanging hugs and saying, “Love you, Brother.” Debbie has become my sister from another mister.

I’ve told both of them she married the right man, because Bill is one of the best people I’ve ever known — a Christian who truly is justified in calling himself that. The Lord Himself must have had a hand in putting the two of them together.

Each year, they put on a free Christmas dinner for special needs folks and their caregivers, presents included. Usually there are more than a hundred of them.

I help to serve, along with the waitresses, cooks and a few other volunteers. The waitresses call me “Mister Jim,” and I call them “Miss Barbara,” “Miss Brenda,” “Miss Patty,” “Miss Thelma,” “Miss Linda,” “Miss Stephanie” and so on. Debbie’s sister Wanda, one of the cooks, is either “Chef” or “Sis.”

Bill and Debbie have been longtime supporters of the charitable acts performed by Chapter 172, Vietnam Veterans of America, on behalf of veterans. The chapter has returned the favor on many occasions.

They do other things for the community, not just in gratitude to the people who contribute to their livelihood, but because of the type of folks they are.

Like me, many people go to The Royal not as customers, but as friends ... even family.

Bill put up a tremendous fight for several years. To see him, you knew something was terribly wrong. To talk to him, you would never realize anything had changed. Still, I could tell he was growing tired ... something I’ve had to watch before.

Last Sunday, I went to visit him and his family. He slept the whole time, but I am certain he knew I was there. My last words to him were these:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

I also sat and talked for a while with the man who was going to perform the service. He told me his favorite passage in the Scriptures was 1 Corinthians 13:13 — “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I held out my hand to shake his and said, “That’s my favorite, too.”

Debbie called me about two hours later to tell me that Bill’s pain had gone away, never to return.

As I was leaving him that day, I didn’t feel that I was about to lose a friend. Instead, I was thankful for Bill and my other friends who were gathered there, and for a new friend I had just met in a most unexpected place.

I’ve lost nothing and no one. I never say good-bye to those I care for. That’s too final, and I don’t believe in final. Bill will be one of my most treasured buddies for all of eternity.

As St. Paul also said in the same letter to the Corinthians, “Love never ends.”

My other friend, who lived instead of dying on the operating table, likes to say he has more friends than anybody he knows.

I agree with him, but tell him the only reason he has more than I do is because he travels around the country and meets more people. He doesn’t argue with that.

I told him the other night that if the success of a person’s life can be measured by the number of people he loves, and who love him, then he and I must be right up near the top.

“That’s exactly right,” he said, “Brother.”

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Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything
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