Paul Bouman turned 100 last August.
He's well known in our communities, especially for having joined with fellow musician Carl Schalk in founding the Bach Cantata series at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest nearly 50 years ago.
His reputation is also well established as a classroom teacher at Grace School where, among other things, he taught children to sing and built a lasting tradition of children's choirs.
Once a week I visit him at his Oak Park condo. It's always in the afternoon. After his nap and mine.
I turned 90 a few months before Paul's 100th last summer. Think about it: When we get together once a week for a glass of wine and conversation we bring 190 years of lived experience to whatever topic is at hand.
Our mutual longevity doesn't make us better. It does makes us aware of what a rare gift a 60+ year friendship is and how good it is to enjoy, year after year.
Such a gift has to do with the commonalities that all friends experience as the glue that holds people together across all kinds of barriers: mutual respect, freedom for others to enjoy other friendships, empathetic listening, honest candor, healthy boundaries, realism about what friendship can and can't deliver, and whatever else is summed up in the saying, "Be witty if you can, be attractive if you must, but be agreeable if it kills you."
Our friendship began during our days together on the Grace Church and School staff in the mid-l950s. He was the organist, choir director, and seventh-grade teacher at Grace School. I was the assistant pastor who became the senior pastor. We worked together for nearly 25 years. Some pastors and teacher/musicians have been known to get caught up in turf battles. Not so with us. That doesn't make us saints but confirms us as forgiven sinners who belong to each other because God called us and put us to work.
Things worth noting about the stuff of lasting friendship as we've known it:
Each has been complementary in relating to the other's unique gifts; i.e. each of us needs the other to get the bigger job done.
To know when a complimentary word is in order, offered in sincerity for work well done.
To support each other when the right cause is neither popular, easy, nor without demands on time and effort.
To call each other to account when the impulse is to let it pass.
To console each other in times of grief and loss.
To keep a sense of humor alive and well (I once received a gift spittoon from PB).
To enlarge one another's vision of the wider good by helping each other pay attention to the wider world beyond us.
To disallow political views, social standing, or financial disparities from getting in the way.
To face up to, and talk openly about, our mortality, i.e. the fact that we will die.
Lest I imply that all these things inform our visits all the time, they of course do not.
But I mention them because some of them, some of the time, do enter in to make our weekly visits more than routine.
In these times in our land I wish to celebrate our friendship, and all friendships, as an antidote to the "Why Are We So Angry?" mood, which is more corrosive of human relationships than we realize.
I do not claim to know all the answers to that question.
I do know this from experience: Friendships matter — they matter deeply, in our nation and world.
I say it gratefully, not as the obvious or the irrelevant, but as a sign of something that's greater than either of us.
What might that something be?
Henry David Thoreau said it simply: "The language of friendship is not words but meaning." Meaning for a life well lived, one that blesses rather than burdens, that gives no less than takes, that brings one to the end of any given day with a sense of satisfaction rather than a sigh of regret.
Amen to that.
F. Dean Lueking is pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest.
Answer Book 2018
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