I stepped outside. The miserable heat was slowly losing its grip on the day as the sun inched downward toward the horizon. I watched the boys on the trampoline for a moment; laughing heartily, and all dripping wet from having just soaked one another with the hose. This was the late summer ritual. The evenings would cool just enough to make extended outdoor play tolerable, but the trampoline surface would be too hot for bare feet. The boys would spray the surface to cool it down, and each other just because. I continued on. I crumpled up the newspaper pages as I headed to the edge of the patio. Activity on the trampoline slowed a little, and the laughter began to die down. I lifted the lid off the Weber and removed the top grate. The boys fell silent. The stress of a few springs bringing the trampoline to rest was the only sound. I stuffed the newspaper in the bottom of the chimney and set it in the bowl. I turned to see them standing still with broad smiles as they watched me pour the coals into the cylinder . I reached into my pocket to retrieve the lighter, and as the smoke rose from the fire igniting the paper, one of the boys yelled out, “Barbecue!!”
They love barbecues… not so much for my grilling skills (which are excellent if I must say so myself…except for the smoked burger incident which will not be revisited), or because they love to eat, but because of what barbecues have come to represent. They have long associated clouds of chimney smoke, wafting aromas, and the gentle sizzle of grilling meats and vegetables with the imminent arrival of friends and family. My grill preparation is a kind of Pavlovian Bell for them that signifies the onset of an enjoyable social event. They see me with the newspaper and lighter or smell the coals burning and they just light up! The questions of who’s coming and when start flying around. It is a blessing to see them exhibit such genuine excitement about being able to spend time with the people they enjoy. I love it.
My hope is that my sons develop meaningful friendships, and that they willingly befriend those in need. They do appreciate their friends and look forward to having them around, but none of the boys are interested in putting much effort into expanding their circles. This is especially true of the twins. It is likely due to them having one another to fill that role. In time they may be more willing to engage others more consistently. They are young. In youth, as it is with many things, I think it is commonplace to take friendships for granted. The future is hardly a concept they ponder daily. It can be difficult to imagine that you may not always have those friends in your life. It can be difficult to imagine that time and distance can create barriers that seem impossible to overcome. But it all happens. Sometimes for good reasons, and often for no apparent reason; people fall in and out of each others’ lives.
I don’t know that it is possible to overstate the importance of companionship. For every great story or event in my life, I have someone that shares the memory and the experience. For almost every major obstacle or setback, there’s been encouragement, support, and often someone standing with me shoulder to shoulder. Even in the absence of that, God always reminds me that in those trials I faced alone, someone had me in their thoughts and prayers. Those are some of the intangibles of friendship. Those are the things that make you pause when you hear a name spoken after all those years, or make you smile when you see the number pops up when the phone rings or when the name comes up on email… those are things that make you grab your coat and head out in the middle of the night because someone’s in need…or make you stop in your tracks and pray, because you know there is nothing you can do (yet somehow that’s the best thing you can do). Those are the things that come to mind when I light the fire.
There was no company coming that evening. The boys were a little disappointed, and, honestly, so was I. But, it was a Tuesday, a school night and a work night, and we don’t typically have folks over late during the week. Still… as I watched our lonely burgers on the grill I couldn’t help thinking about all the people throughout my life I have had the privilege to call “friend”. Some friends I thought I’d know forever; some I never thought I’d know as friends. I’ve learned something from every one; even if it was just that I should have been a better friend. I think about the boys and wonder if the excitement they feel today will continue to burn in them. I wonder when they will realize the importance of maintaining friendships… and I pray they are as blessed as I have been, and more so.
Barbecues are not about the food to me either. I flipped the burgers and watched the glowing coals. The sun slipped below the roofline of the house behind us and the warm breeze blew the smoke toward the trampoline.
Thanks for coming along for the ride… kiss your kids!