Friday, January 13, 2006


One of the things I've learned by being a book reviewer is that sometimes you have to look past the flaws and faults -- like bad grammar, horrendous proofing, lousy editing, and illiteracy -- to see the story. Sometimes the story is rich with humor and pathos and life and sometimes it's just a cover for the even worse problem of having a nonsensical plot, cardboard characters, and/or no story.

Like the books I read and review, sometimes I have to put aside my knowledge and experience and literary prejudices to see and appreciate the story being told. I still the editorial voice that harangues and the hand that reaches for the blue pencil and put my expectations and way of doing things on a shelf and let the all too human voice telling the story shine through, letting their story and their words speak and keeping my own voice silent, as I have always done whether I wrote an article or a profile because it isn't important what I have to say about a story or a person but what that story says about itself or the person says about himself. I have opinions and they belong in an op-ed piece, but they do not belong where I am not the focus. My job is to absorb the information and let the story and person take center stage. And when I do, I learn something, too.

The same is true of life.

Life seems to be a delicate blossom blooming in fragile hothouse conditions but more often than not it is a hardy weed growing wild in the most improbable of places without sunlight, rain, or protection from the worst the elements have to throw at it. Life clings tenaciously to wind scoured rocks, thrusts boldly up between stony cracks, spreads luxuriantly through the currents around superheated volcanic flares and tornadoes, and generally thrives when all hope has fled.

It doesn't matter what you do to it, life finds a way to make itself apparent. And so, too, with friends.

A friend is going through some rough times with family and work but she always has the time to listen to that one off note in my voice when I say nothing is wrong and that I'm fine because her heart hears what I'm keeping back. She doesn't need for me to cry or scream or rage at the vagaries of human nature to know that I'm hurting, just as I can hear the tense note of pain or disappointment in her voice when things aren't quite right with her. It seems funny that we have known each other for such a short time and have forged such strong bonds that neither time nor distance or a few days' silence can dent or nick. Through her I have learned patience and endurance and a love and gentle spirit that even the worst times cannot dim too much. Prick her and she bleeds, but she heals and she keeps on going despite the pain and the hurt. She does a job that few people could handle with such honest patience and regard and I admire her.

But my list of friends, although somewhat small in the scheme of things, includes many such people. One friend faces each morning before the butt crack of dawn and works 10-hour days at a job that she does better than anyone else and despite the fact that her personal life is a romantic and lonely shambles at times. She inspires others with her calm good will and drive to succeed. Another friend faces a daily sink of depression and disregard and still gives himself unselfishly and generously, expecting nothing in return.

Many of my friends work impossible hours or live from one day to the next without knowing whether or not they will end up alone or have enough money to buy their children what they want as well as what they need. And some friends, one in particular, despite moments of pique and anger, calm down and carry on despite disappointment and disagreement, and have been the bright stars on my horizon, forgiving me for my faults, flaws, and moments of pique.

There have been other people, those who called me friend, who never understood that being a good friend is as simple as accepting people for who and what they are and not needing them to change, not expecting them to refit themselves into another mold. They do not understand that time and distance never change real friendship and that appearances are deceiving.

These people, some I have known for what seems like forever and some I have only known for a short while, have brightened and enriched my life. Even the people who pass like nomads through my life, have taught me something. I haven't always wanted to pay attention at the time, but I did and do learn from them.

I'm learning still.

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