our gang: part 2

our gang part 2 - Best Advice So Far

In May, I wrote a post called “our gang,” which turned out to be one of the most read, shared and discussed posts in my more than four years of blogging. This Thursday having been Thanksgiving, I got to hang with “our gang” again; and it prompted some cool new thoughts.

I often say (and, in fact, mentioned in the original post in May) that holidays with “our gang” are as close to walking into a Norman Rockwell painting as anyone could hope to get. Traditions run deep with us. The Thanksgiving meal has included the same items made the same way, for the twenty-two years I’ve been part of the celebration; but those recipes actually go back a century or more, not merely decades.

Since my addition to the mix in 1994, I’ve taken on two very important traditions at holiday meals: rubbing garlic on the toast (two pieces) and tearing it by hand to make the croutons for the salad; and lighting the many candles as the last of the afternoon light fades.

(Side Note: The right lighting is very important in life.)

(Side Note to the Side Note: My mouth literally just watered at the thought of having a turkey sandwich made with mashed potatoes and that gravy, on one of Holly’s rolls!)

But mood lighting, special traditions and phenomenal food made from recipes handed down through generations are not the main reasons for the enveloping feeling of having walked through the looking glass. No, it’s the people. And as I thought about it throughout the day Thursday and continuing through to today, I caught a glimpse of something that really shouldn’t have surprised me, but surprise me it did all the same. It occurred to me that the magic really comes down to one thing: choice.

Today, I want to share with you just a few of the choices that our gang makes consistently with regard to one another – choices that have resulted in the best darned friendships someone could ever hope to have:

We choose to be emotionally expressive.

I was the first to arrive yesterday. Before I’d even reached the gate, out through the screen door and springing down the porch steps came Holly, dressed in her apron, clearly having left her toils in the kitchen. “You’re heeeeere!” she squealed with delight, arms over her head and fingers spread ecstatically, like a toddler clamoring to be picked up when daddy gets home from work.

As each guest pulls in on such occasions, similar cheers erupt, as if the guest of honor had just arrived. Kisses and hugs and delighted gasps and ecstatic squeals abound. And we don’t just “hug.” We rock-hug. We dance-hug. We wiggle-hug. We squeeze-hug and say, “Mm – mm – mm – mm – MMM!” tightening our grip each time. And every bit of it is genuine.

Best Advice So Far: Choose to be emotionally expressive.

Now, you may be saying, “I’m just not that kind of touchy-feely person” or “I wasn’t raised that way” or “That would just make me uncomfortable.” I’m not discounting that any or all of those things may be true about you at this moment. For the record, I wasn’t raised that way, either. In fact, one of my early blog posts, “hypothesis,” recounts the first time I declared to my own mother that she was going to be hugged and hug me back, even if that wasn’t how either of us was raised – and the transformation that’s happened in her since. (I highly recommend reading it if you identify as someone who is very uncomfortable with physical expressions of love and friendship.)

In “our gang,” you really can’t tell who was “raised that way” and who wasn’t for the most part. I suspect that Richie Rich (Richard, Holly’s husband) was not raised that way. But you know what? He has taken the risk and gotten over it to a large degree. And Richard beams when people arrive, and hugs and gets hugged, just like the rest of us. And when he walks around a corner and sees you there, he looks you in the eye and he smiles and squeezes your arm or your shoulder, and he says, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Just because you’re not comfortable with something right now doesn’t mean you can’t become comfortable with it – and enjoy the wonderful rewards of taking that risk. You’re not somehow excluded.

You always have a choice.

We choose to speak what we feel.

Richie Rich isn’t alone in expressing “I’m glad you’re here.” Here’s just a small sampling of other things that people said to one another in our gang yesterday:

“I’m so happy to see you.”

“I really enjoy talking to you.”

“I love your take on things.”

“This meal is perfect.”

At first read-through, none of these words may sound all that miraculous. But stop and imagine yourself actually saying them to specific people in your life. Does the image of you speaking those words out loud to people seem natural – or squirmy and weird?

Best Advice So Far: Choose to speak what you feel.

For some people, spoken expression is even more uncomfortable than physical expression. But putting words to how you feel changes things in a relationship. Rather than laboring over what to write in a card twice a year (or maybe leaving it to Hallmark to say it for you), with practice, it really can become part of the natural flow of your relationships.  And if you lead without expectation of return, you’ll be surprised how many others in your life you might inspire to take a few risks themselves.

We choose to create meaningful moments.

As I said, I was the first to arrive yesterday. Holly ran out to greet me (Richie Rich was not yet back from visiting his own mom), and soon Bud and Dib arrived, bearing, among other things, a tote of drinks.

Dib asked if I’d set into opening a few bottles, among them a bottle of champagne. Now, I’m admittedly no aficionado when it comes to such things, not being a drinker myself; but Holly dashed to the rescue, towel in hand, wrapping it expertly around the top of the bottle while explaining the right way to do such a thing: “Always turn the bottle, not the cork.”

Moments later, as I was pondering how smart I’d look and sound at the next soirée I might attend, Bud appeared with four glasses and Dib went to work pouring equal amounts of the “bubbly” into each. Instinctively, we all raised our glasses – just the four of us huddled in close. Bud smiled and simply said, “Cheers,” which was followed by contented sighs, knowing eye contact between all possible pairs, clinking all around and the first sip of the day together, as we all grinned like kids who’d really gotten away with something clever.

The reason for the toast? Nothing specific, really. It was just a moment that was seized between four friends, because we could, in that way, at that exact time.

And another memory was made.

Best Advice So Far: Choose to create meaningful moments.

We could have just stayed in motion. Busy. Opening this. Moving that from the counter to the table. Pouring. Mixing. But our little gang is always on the lookout for moments of pause – moments that can be maximized and turned into memories.

A toast and round of applause for the blushing cook.

A sing-along to ukulele and harmonica accompaniment.

Words spoken to remember in specific ways friends and family who have passed, and the ways in which  they each remain a part of the present.

All around us, there are potential memories-in-the-making, just waiting to be woven into the fabric of our friendships. It is our choice to be open to them, to seek them out, to bring them into being.

We choose to notice and appreciate the small stuff.

Everyone somehow winds up feeling like a million bucks when we all get together. And again, this comes down to a choice – the choice to be others-focused instead of just me-focused.

“Look at you! You look fantastic! Hubba hubba!”

“Can you imagine being as gorgeous as she is! Stunning!”

“You’re vibrato when you sing is really cool and unique.”

“I love that you put the extra effort into details like these little glass bowls filled with raw cranberries, or aligning the flatware at that angle.”

Best Advice So Far: Choose to notice and appreciate the small stuff.

If you were to ask us, every article of clothing everyone else is wearing is “just the right one,” and “who could’ve imagined having worn anything but that?” The way our hair falls is always “perfect” and we are somehow always looking “the best we’ve ever looked.”

It’s not idle flattery or some form of mutual ego stroking. It’s all very sincere and natural. We really do feel that way about one another! Maybe you’ll say it’s rose-colored glasses, but who cares even if it is? I’ll take ’em! And the cumulative effect of those little “notices” and compliments can keep a body buoyed for a week or more afterward.

And just by the way, these things are reserved for arrival time. While they might be said then, they’re as likely to be dished out an hour or three later. You just never know when.

The supply of kindness is unlimited. And who wouldn’t want to be part of helping the other important people in our lives feel extraordinary?

We choose to keep love the most important thing.

I just came back from a bathroom break while writing here. On one of my bathroom shelves is a simple scallop shell, sealed shut with a note tied to it that says, “You are loved.” It was a Christmas gift last year from Michael and Larissa, and, in its simplicity, it sums up the core of why our friendships work.

I mentioned in the first “our gang” post a very rare thing: that our group of friends has just never had an argument between members. There has never been unkindness or gossip or resentment. And it’s not because we are all clones. We’ve just made the conscious choice to love each other first and foremost. Along with that decision comes believing the best at all times. And along with that decision comes an endless flow of support, no matter what.

Best Advice So Far: Choose to keep love the most important thing.

Even things like political or religious views are never a source of debate or ridicule, but only of learning more about how someone else thinks. It just would never even occur to any of us to choose arguing or “being right” over the joy and comfort of loving one another and being loved in return. That doesn’t mean that we don’t challenge each other to think new thoughts or reach for more in life; but that happens indirectly out of “yes, and …” or “have you ever considered …?” type discussions with people we love and respect.

This post was originally to be called “friendship: what works”; but I can only definitively tell you that it’s “what works” for me. Still, I hope it might inspire some of you to appreciate “your gang” in new ways – or to take some positive social risks toward forming deeper friendships with some of the people in your own life.

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The Best Advice So Far is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, The Best Advice So Far shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).


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About Erik

I'm an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, listener, noticer and lover of life. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

14 responses to “our gang: part 2

  • chadgramling

    Hey Erik. So glad you posted on Jed’s link-share. I read your original Our Gang post, but missed this one. It makes me long for the group of friends from youth. Though we were prone to fighting, jealousy and other forms of humanness, we were a close-knit group of like-minded souls that probably kept one-another alive or on the right track in life more than once. Some of my most cherished memories include those souls.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Sean P Carlin

    You know, Stephen King once wrote (in what I consider to be the finest story ever told about boyhood friendship, The Body): “The most important things are the hardest to say… because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away.”

    Friendship and love need to be built upon a foundation of candor — without that, all you’ve got to trade with someone are superficial pleasantries that exist for no other reason than to fill awkward social silences. Having grown up myself in a household in which expressing your true feelings — your true self — was not only discouraged, it was a punishable offense (we are talking about repressed Irish Catholics, after all), the only things that saved me were the friendships that you and I recently discussed, Erik. Certainly the most meaningful moments of my life have come out of the conscious acts of friendship — the genuine exchanges of love, given freely and without familial obligation — that I’ve been blessed to know, time and again (a gift I don’t take for granted), as a boy, a teen, a young man, and now a grown man. I learned something over the course of those “different seasons”: How many people in our lives, really, get a true glimpse at our “secret heart”? That kind of friendship is a rare thing indeed; I can say with certainty — and with profound gratitude — that I’ve been luckier than most in that regard. You can’t make friendship happen any more than you can make lightning strike, but, once established, it can be nurtured, and I think the advice you put forth in this essay — particularly about having the courage to be emotionally demonstrative — is some of the best I’ve encountered to that end.

    I love reading stories about “our gang” — your gang. Cherish every moment with them, as I’m certain you do, and please share more of those moments in the months and years to come. You’ve always, after all, been an advocate of choice, and what emblemizes choice more powerfully than our friendships, which are relationships — human connections — that we’ve elected to commence and conserve?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Well said, Sean. I feel like I’ve gotten the privilege of getting to know you better, even from afar, over the last few months; and I definitely feel you are a kindred spirit with regard to the things that matter most.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Julie Holmes, author

    Such a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing, Erik!

    Liked by 1 person

  • D. Wallace Peach

    Lovely post, Erik. It sounds like great fun. Friendship is an easy choice if you think about. How hard can it be, really, to be kind. If the heart is in the right place, the good feelings spread with very little effort. How wonderful to have a gang with which to share a tradition of thankfulness.

    We do a potluck Thanksgiving every year with my daughter and anyone we know who is far from home, so our gathering has a few changing faces each year, and other than turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, the menu is a mystery. It’s always great fun and everyone has a sense of belonging. This year, my 2-year-old grandson looked across the table at one of the guests, and said, “You’re good at cooking, Jessica.” It summed up the “flavor” of the day. If a 2-year-old can do it, anyone can. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik

      I love this, Diana: your traditions, the fact that you invite in whomever needs a home and family (we do, as well), and the input from your grandson! I don’t think, for most people, it’s that we don’t know how to have this type of interactions and friendships; I think it’s that we forget or let go what came easily as children.

      Liked by 2 people

  • Jed Jurchenko

    It sounds like you guys had an awesome Thanksgiving. I love the title, and I do think “Friendship,” would have worked just fine too. I see the skills of expressing acceptance, warmth, and love, as being something that works for everyone.

    I agree, the best friendships are the ones where you are valued… period. Debates, discussions & challenging each other’s way of thinking, can all take place. However, at the end of the day, it is the friendship that matters most.

    Such great friendship advice. I can vouch that all of these tools are especially valuable in marriage too 🙂 Wishing you an incredible Thanksgiving weekend!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Erik

      Yes, Jed, at risk of saying a thing too often – truth is true, before any of us stumbled upon it. And so it absolutely applies to marriages! Hope your own Thanksgiving weekend away has been all the best things.

      Liked by 2 people

  • Olivia Bartlett

    Love love love this!!!!!!!! And you!!!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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