It’s late. I am staying at a small inn. There is a wedding rehearsal dinner in the courtyard outside my room window. It’s a big shindig. There is a loud band. A crowd. Laughter. Twinkling lights.
I am eating peanut butter from a jar, watching the whole thing through my window.
The party band is playing “Benny and the Jets.”
It is 10:21 P.M.
The people in the wedding party are dressed snazzy. Men wear Sunday clothes. Ladies look like they’re ready for prom.
Everyone sips red wine from tall glasses in a sophisticated way which tells me they are not sipping Boone’s Farm Blue Hawaiian. I’ll bet it’s expensive wine.
I am in my bathrobe, standing by the window, sampling a fine vintage Smucker’s Crunchy Natural. Light bodied, with piquant overtones of Dothan.
I am a well-noted peanut butter lover. I eat several jars per week. The day before my wedding, my friends pitched in and bought me Sam’s Club gallon barrels of JIF. They wrapped them in red ribbons and attached notecards.
My friend Bobby wrote: “This should last you a few days.”
The party band is playing an encore of “Benny and the Jets.” People are dancing. Friends, family, and happy people.
It’s hard not to smile. Because there is nothing more holy than friendship. Not to me. I grew up in a broken home. My friends were, are, and always will be the closest family I have ever had.
For example, earlier today I had lunch with one such friend. Her heart is gold, and she has the audacity to believe in me. She has believed since I first met her, not long ago.
You don’t forget people who believe in you, not for a hundred years. They don’t even have to say anything sentimental to tell you how they feel. All they have to do is give you a kind look. One look. And you’re family.
My friend and I ate Lebanese food, we talked, we laughed. And when the meal was over, my life was fifty percent richer than it was yesterday.
And just last night, in Pensacola I celebrated the fiftieth birthday of my friend, Steve.
Fifty might seem middle-aged, but not when you’re talking about Steve. He may be fifty, but he has the body of a forty-nine-year-old.
It was a surprise party. We all arrived at a fancy restaurant. When Steve walked through the door, we shouted “Happy birthday!” Then sang to him.
He didn’t even crack a smile. Because Steve does not smile. Not even on his birthday.
We ordered oysters, pork, Wagyu beef, ahi tuna, lobster, lamb lollipops, crème brûlée, and homemade blueberry ice cream. We laughed, we shouted over each other’s voices, we slapped each other’s backs. Because friends do that.
We stayed until closing time. And it was more fun than I’ve had in a long time.
The band just finished playing “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” Now they’re replaying “Benny and the Jets.”
When I was younger, I used to feel like life was a chore—I’m ashamed to admit that. I didn’t grow up exceedingly happy.
The first half of my life was painted with grief from a father’s death. The second half was ruined by repeatedly blowing the SEC Championship.
I was not a cheerful person. I was a quiet kid. I was lonely. Friends were hard to come by. Good friends were a myth. I sat in my bedroom eating a lot of peanut butter.
But at this stage of life, I understand things a little better. And I wish I could tell that lonely kid something. I would tell him that no matter how bad things get, dark things in life can be suffocated by hugs. And friends.
And who knows? Maybe one day, after enough hugs, you might find yourself all grown up, wearing a bathrobe, eating peanut butter. You’re sleepy, but you’re overlooking a courtyard, watching a loud band play. The people dance, sing, holler, and it’s perfect.
And you’re reminded of friends who once gathered around an awkward redhead the day before his wedding, who fuzzed his hair, who gave him gallon jugs of JIF for a joke.
Something like that changes a man.
Outside my window, I can see the groom. I can see the bride. They have their whole lives ahead of them. Their friends are embracing them, kissing their cheeks, and giving them that look.
It’s a look that says, “No matter what, you’re family to me.” A look that says, “I will be here for you.”
And more than that, their look says, “This loud music is not going to end until after 1:00 A.M.”