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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Where Are You?

Now that I got the music trivia bug out of my system, I can go back to the “cheat codes for life.” I had planned on a different topic this time, but I kept thinking about this one repeatedly over the past week. And that is this: who are the “Where Are You?” people in your life.

The concept is pretty simple. Greg and Ron are two of my oldest friends; we went to high school together, and we lived together in college. We have been present for the major life events of the others, and we even having a running text chain during Indiana basketball games, which makes it feel like we’re watching the game together. We had a discussion a few years ago when I told them, “You know, I know that, during times of trouble, no matter what time of day or night, I could call either one of you and the only words out of your mouth would be ‘Where are you?’” That was a huge moment of vulnerability for me, and I was relieved when they both agreed that my statement was true.

After the botched Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, John F. Kennedy lamented that “victory has a hundred fathers, but failure is an orphan.” In other words, everyone wants to be around for the good times, but no one seems to ever want to endure the setbacks. I think you can exchange ‘hardship’ for ‘failure’ and the statement is no less true. It can be a lonely feeling wandering the wilderness, and sometimes you forget that the reason you feel lonely is because you’re not turning around to see who has your back. Who walks in when everyone else is walking out?

In this day of social media, a lot is made of how many “friends” or “followers” one has. I remember in the early days of social media and MySpace, I was thrilled to find out that Alice Cooper was a friend of mine on the app, to which my friend Ron (he pops up a lot in these important moments) quips, “He’s not your real friend, you know.” I mean, in my heart I knew that – the shock rocker has never invited me for a round of golf (and thankfully, because playing golf with Alice Cooper would give new meaning to the phrase “welcome to my nightmare”). But I think that we tend to equate our support and popularity by these terms more than we should. When a celebrity struggles with addiction or depression, we look to their social media following to wonder how they could be so low. I’ll admit, when blog posts don’t gain traction with people, I wonder what’s wrong with me or my writing. It’s a byproduct of our current culture.

Why do we crave these superficial connections over the real stuff? My suspicion is that it’s work to develop those deep connections, and it requires us to look up from our phones on occasion. I’ve always felt that relationships are like bank accounts: if you hope to withdraw someday, you need to make sure that you’re making deposits on occasion. Be the kind of friend that inspires loyalty. Are you there for others when their chips are down? As I write this, I reflect back on my own life and am so grateful that I have dozens of people in my life who would drop everything for me, and my only explanation for this is that I have great taste in friends, I make sure that I’m there for my friends, or a combination of both. I don’t mean to make it sound like meaningful relationships are transactional or conditional in nature, but we all have the friend that always seems to be dealing with something, and we tend to debate whether or not we’re going to answer the phone every time they come up on the caller ID.

So that is the challenge I post to you – who makes up your “Where Are You?” crowd? Who are the people you know you can depend on when times are tough? I’ll admit, I have people in my life who are good friends, but they aren’t in the inner circle because I know that I can’t depend on them when it’s important. They may be fun at parties or make you laugh, but they don’t have it “where it counts.” Who asks you how you’re doing, and you know it’s not some social obligation to them? A good test is when you answer their question with "fine" and they reply, “No really, how are you?” And if they let you drink too much at parties or say nothing when you make awful decisions, they aren’t the ones. And please, don’t think that they need to be in great numbers; this is a quality exercise, not a quantity one. I tell my son all the time that you only need about four to five people over the entire course of your life who “get you.” The lesson must have stuck, because he is a good friend to so many, and his good will is reciprocated. I also have told him that if your “friends” make you feel bad or unloved, they aren’t your friends. At the end of the day, talk is cheap -- who has it where it counts?

So, go out in the world and find your crew. You have the right to be picky, and be wary of anyone that tells you that your standards are too high. And finally, don’t expect to receive what you aren’t willing to give in return. And as always, be excellent to each other, and…

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