Through thin and thick: Here’s to good friends

March has been a really bad month, hasn’t it? Yes, Dan, it has.

Some of us are ready to fast-forward through the commercials and get to April. But here’s a thought: let’s go back to December.

Specifically, the week before Christmas. Anyone who is lucky enough to own a TV knows what happens at this time—the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown 24 hours a day on every station on your dial for five consecutive days. Twice.

Like “The Wizard of Oz,” everyone and their grandmothers have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” about a thousand times in their lives. If you haven’t seen it, come out from under your rock and be enlightened.

It’s the story of George Bailey, played by the gangly Jimmy Stewart. George is a swell guy, which in 1946 was not a questionable thing to be. Everyone loves George, but his life is one endless series of honkers.

Just when old George is about to go off the deep end, an odd-looking angel appears and shows him how many people depend on him for lunch money and things like that. So George runs through Bedford Falls shouting, “Maree Chrushmush,” which is how Jimmy Stewart says, “Merry Christmas.”

The angel’s final words to George are, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.” A beautiful sentiment. Houses all across America are flooded with tears at this point. I learned to swim this way.

Another Christmas movie laced with good feeling is “The Three Godfathers” with the heroic John Wayne. It’s an allegory about three bandits (i.e. the three wise men) who, on Christmas Eve, come across an orphaned baby (guess who) in the desert. They follow a star in the east (get it?) to bring the kid to safety. The similarities are scary.

So Wayne and his buddies stagger across the desert. The two other guys are wimps and they die, and the Duke is left alone to save the baby. Eventually, he begins to stumble, and he falls and decides to give up. How uncharacteristic.

Suddenly—I had to use that word—the ghosts of his buddies appear, and they goad him into getting up. “Think about it,” they say. “You can have a cool, cool beer if you make it.” The Duke gets up and says, “Two cool, cool beers.” He would have fit in nicely at NIU.

Of course, John Wayne never gave up. But this time he needed his friends to make it.

Friendship is a wild thing, isn’t it, kids? Friends come in and out of our lives like changing fashion. Some stick around for a long time, some we hang on to and lose anyway and some fade away like a grass stain on Levi’s.

One measure of friendship comes in mall encounters. Let’s say you’re walking through the mall and you come across someone you know. It’s too late to hide.

If it’s a friend, you stop at Burgerburg and have lunch together. If it’s an acquaintance, you nod as you walk past and say something witty and original like, “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”

Or maybe it’s the person you had a falling out with. You walk by and pretend you don’t see them, but if your eyes do meet, you try to get away with simply saying, “Ummphf” and quickly fall into The Gap.

But the true measure of friendship comes when a person still bothers to hang around with you after seeing your morning face. A true friend has smelled your stocking feet after a long day or heard you burp like Harry Caray after eating pizza.

You have shown your mean streaks and weak sides to a true friend. You’ve even treated your friend like garbage from time to time. Maybe you’ve shot your friend.

But you only remember the good times when you think of a true friend. That’s what we call the bottom line.

When you find yourself feeling down like George Bailey or crawling through the desert with a stunt-baby in your arms like John Wayne, it’s those one or two true friends who will just happen to call or stop by to toss the football.

So here’s to good friends. Tonight is kinda special. It’s Friday—and it’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with.