What's a friend?
It's a term I've been throwing around for about three decades now, but for much of that time I didn't think much about what it meant.
As a four-year-old, it pretty much meant "someone to play with."
Kyle Lansinger was my first friend. Separated by only three months, two widths of sidewalk and the 25 feet or so of asphalt known as Fall Street, we played almost every day for years. From bikes to G.I. Joes to Matchbox cars to guns (Seriously, we would "play guns." What different times the '80s were), few days were complete without one of us crossing the street to see the other.
As I grew, the definition of friend didn't change very much. The definition of play changed a bit, including baseball and football, playing Nintendo, listening to music, driving around, watching sports and, eventually, drinking beer.
Still, a friend was pretty much someone you had fun with.
But growing up does something to the definition of friendship. It's not about the good times. In fact, the good times might be the least important part of friendship.
A friend is the college roommate who takes helps take care of you when you're sick. A friend is the person who cries with you when you find out your mom has cancer. Friends are the people who come make sure you're all right when you've unexpectedly lost a parent.
My wife is now my best friend, even though she doesn't fit some of the parameters of my early definition of friends. (Not that we don't do fun things.)
I also realize now that for the first 25 years or so of my life, my mom was my best friend, as lame as that would have sounded to 17-year-old me.
I was reminded of what friendship is again this weekend in performing a couple of home improvement projects at my house.
When I sought advice on the issues from my neighbor across the street a few weeks ago, he volunteered his services. I think he looked at it as being a good neighbor -- saving me a bunch of cash from calling in the "professionals" and maybe teaching me a thing or two about home improvement in the process.
When the time came on Saturday, the first job went off without a hitch -- hole drilled in the wall, new dryer vent installed. Done and done.
The second was a bit trickier. We had to crawl under the house, investigate a cracked sewer pipe and then replace a length of it.
When Mike checked it out, of course the problem was a little worse than we thought. I realized this when he handed me a little piece of wood laying there in the crawlspace with the words, "Use this to dig a trench so this flows away from us."
I won't lead anyone to think the problem was worse than it was. There have to be thousands of worse horror stories than what happened to us on Saturday. The fix itself was still fairly simple and the amount of ... um ... liquid that flowed out of that pipe wasn't that bad.
All the same, though, there was poop in that water. It was on our clothes. It was on our skin. At one point, some of it even got into Mike's face.
But as we crawled back out from under the house, the job was done and it hadn't been too difficult, not so long as we had one person who knew what he was doing.
As I thanked Mike, then man who'd willingly, without any expectation of payment, crawled under my house and into the realm of my family's waste, I knew I had a friend.
This wasn't simply a neighbor or an acquaintance, but a friend.
We may not play G.I. Joes or play video games or drink beer together, but he's been a friend for the entire five years we've been across the street from each other.
Who else but a friend would get splashed in the face like that and not complain about it?