While working construction during this period, I did get to meet the only person I ever openly called my best friend. When I first saw Doug (again, hanging around the shop in the early morning hours hoping to get to work that day) I remember him shuffling papers and interacting with some of the bosses.
Doug had severe acne problems as a child and was left was some severe facial scarring. He also was born with a cleft palette as a child, and even though he went through several painful surgeries during his life, as an adult, he still has a bit of what is unkindly called a "harelip". Little did I know at the moment, this person, who was less than the perfect model of handsomeness, would teach me more about life and love than any man I'd ever meet.
Turns out, he was the most beautiful person I would ever meet.
Doug taught me what it meant to face the world with a smile. We had several jobs working together after we first met. I would pick him up often in the morning to carpool to the job. We'd stop at a local convenience store for morning coffee (he'd always pay for mine) and never once would Doug not strike up a hearty conversation with any and every clerk. He never met a stranger, never was shy, and never passed a child that he wouldn't bend over and smile at playfully in some manner or another.
He was also one of the hardest working men I'd ever known. He could stay up late nights 'til two in the morning, get up by five, and work hard all day and then do it all over again. He was relentless. Many people accused Doug of rudeness, since he never hesitated speaking up on any subject and never was one to beat around the bush. I never found him rude, only refreshingly honest. He always smiled, always greeted strangers and made them feel welcome, and he tried real hard to be patient and tolerant of others.
Doug worked in a puppet ministry with children at church when I first met him. He always said he felt it was his calling from God to work with children. Once Doug said, "You know Mitch, I hope we're friends several years from now."
I said, "Well of course, why not?" He said, "Ah, come on Mitch. How many people that you knew ten years ago can you honestly say you are still friends with? Probably none."
He had a point. And I made it a point to be mindful of passing years as his family and my family grew closer together. We went on vacations together. His kids grew up with my kids. We'd spend nearly every Thanksgiving Dinner at either their house or mine. We worked together and argued all the big questions of life over and back again on way too many occasions. We used to play a game while painting or hanging vinyl at the job sites: What would you do if you had a million dollars? It was Doug's favorite game. He loved to dream and believed dreams came true. When ten years came around, I pointed out to him, "Hey, knucklehead (my favorite endearing term for him)... it's been ten years now. What do you think of that?" He instantly knew what I was saying and just smiled and said, "Yeah, you're right. I guess you got me on that one."
Doug is my best friend still, and I believe we will always be able strike a cord of instant rapport. We just know each other too well, from years and years of rambunctious talking. It's been close to twenty years now since I first met Doug. Our friendship lasted longer than his marriage did. I got to be his best man at the next wedding though. We've gotten to watch each other's kids grow up. My children have a special place in their hearts for him. They love him as much as I do. I don't see him as often as I used to, but we both know we'd do about anything for the other. He called me a while back and asked if I'd drive with him out to West Texas for a few days to bury his brother. "Do you have to ask?" I said. "Not really, I just wanted to let you know when we're leaving," he said.
It's good to have a best friend. Since knowing Doug, I've learned to strike up a conversation with a child, a clerk or a passing stranger. I never could do that before. I wasn't brave enough, friendly enough, and, for no apparent reason, I lived in my own shell. I guess I just never really cared about people either. Doug cares for everyone he passes. Reminds me of the scripture where Jesus says, "When you do anything to the least of the people that you meet, you do it also to me." That's how Doug treats people. When I get to see Doug, I get to see a lot of Jesus, also.
[Excerpted from chapter: "Fight the Good Fight" of "WHITEBOY BLUES" by Mitch Sanders, 2003; Out-of-print.]