My Estate

February 2, 2009

The Latin word for friendship — amicitia — is derived from that for love — amor. — Cicero
My friends are my estate. — Emily Dickinson
Friendship is a sheltering tree. — Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Therefore encourage one another, and build each other up. — 1 Thessalonians 5:12
— from the notebook I kept for Religion IV (Christian Living), 1964-1965

It’s survived forty-four years and five moves. Except for my yearbook and a few items of memorabilia tucked into those pages, the small marble-cover wide-ruled student copybook I used for Religion IV is the only artifact I have from my high school days. Not only do I still have it, I easily put my hands on it today. It occupies something of a place of honor in my study, on a shelf between my copy of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings and MacKinlay Kantor’s brief novel Valedictory.

I drew it down today because the man who imparted the wisdom I recorded in it, the Reverend T. Ronald Haney, is coming to dinner tomorrow, and I want to show it to him. I have not seen him since 1980, when he conducted a funeral that was a turning point in my life, but we’ve been in touch from time to time since I wrote about him in this space three years ago, on the occasion of his retirement. It is a comment on the forward-moving energy that has taken hold in my life since the turn of the year that I followed through on setting a date for him to come to dinner.

As I explained in 2006, Father Haney came to us (the close-knit Class of 1965)  at the start of our senior year, and he represented change. Our school was functioning well, and a change in leadership might not even have been noticed by those of us who had little direct contact with the principals. But Father Haney was a teacher-administrator, and when he strode into our first period Religion IV (Christian Living) class with his exhortations to live an examined life and not one of rote allegiance to established norms, he challenged us to think for ourselves and to take personal responsibility for the ways we would move and be in this world.

The notebook is not the kind I would ever buy for myself, and I’m guessing it is something Father issued to us. Looking at my notations shows me as much about who I was in those days as does the information I chose to record.  Some teachers collected and graded student notebooks, but evidently Father Haney did not employ that assessment tool. If he had, I certainly wouldn’t have used some of the decorative elements on the cover, particularly the frames around the central rectangle where I wrote “Margy Yakimoff – 103” on the line designated for “Name ________” to write over and over again the name of a boy who captured my attention from sometime in early October until just after Christmas.

Or, rather, I captured his. He wasn’t a classmate, but a senior at the public school up the street whom I met at a friend’s birthday party. His first name was Michael and his Greek last name was a musical six syllables, lots of l’s and s’s and ou’s, delicious to say and fun to write.  He was the first boy who ever asked me for my phone number, who ever called me up and asked me out. We went to the Homecoming dance at his school, the Halloween dance at mine. My parents wouldn’t let me go with him (in his car) to a basketball game his school was playing in Reading because it was “too far.” I had no idea where Reading was, exactly, and imagined it way out past Pittsburgh, maybe, more than two hundred miles, instead of so close I have, in recent years, gone there just for lunch.

Michael was polite, well-spoken, a nice boy, but when he showed up one Sunday afternoon to take me to an activity at his church (Greek Orthodox, not Roman Catholic), I could tell my father was most disgruntled. I would learn later that he was annoyed because my date was not wearing a tie. That was near the end of our association, and I’ll never know if perhaps Michael picked up some vibe that suggested he was not welcome at my house or just became interested in someone else. We went out maybe a dozen times over three months, and then we didn’t anymore.

The notebook section on “Friendship” and Father Haney’s advice on that subject takes up almost as much space as the scripture quotations we were given to look up and copy out, each designed to show us a dimension of the personality of Jesus that we were to meditate upon and learn from. Father stressed the importance of forming strong and lasting friendships, especially with individuals of the opposite sex, of the value of a resilient friendship as the basis for an enduring love.

In recent months I have been seized by a resurgence of the energy I felt two years ago to reconnect with old friends I think I’ve neglected or ignored, to strengthen the active friendships that are so wonderfully building me up, to cultivate some fledgling friendships such as those lately made among some writers in New Jersey.  I’ve pondered if the mightiest word is love and been reminded that we carry each other.

It’s possible that if a certain young man’s name were not festooned all over the cover of my Religion IV notebook I would never think of him. But he is part of my estate as surely as is the man who sent me and my classmates out in in 1965 to seek the truth and serve the Lord. I have wealth beyond measure in my friends. They are my sheltering tree, they encourage me, they build me up. They carry me. May I carry them as carefully.

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