Jambalaya

It wasn’t even an entire evening.

Just a few hours, really. Grains of sand on the beach of Time.

Yet, on just such grains is the foundation of lasting friendship built.

Three married couples of varying degrees of life experience (which, yes, is AARP-speak for “age”), including my wife and I, enjoyed a wonderful, early-June excursion to downtown Joliet’s New Orleans North festival.

Good music, fabulous food, engaging conversation, lots of laughter, and abundant opportunities for watching colorful people of every derivation available in a major metropolitan suburb in 2016. What could make it better?

Only the chance to do it all with people who share your interests. Who appreciate – or at least tolerate — your pretzled sense of humor. Who indulge your cranky, “It-has-been-a-long-day-and-somebody-better-feed-me-soon” demeanor. Who have heard, more than any twenty people should ever have to hear, about your personal and professional woes, yet patiently listen to your new tales of terror (or worse, the old ones rehashed).

People who have lived your life and celebrated your successes and dreamed your dreams and felt your frustration. Who have been shoulder, and ear, and hands, and heart.

People about whom you care, deeply, because you know — intuitively, in the darkest room of your soul where such sustaining knowledge is kept and protected — that they care about you, too. Even when it runs against reason or benefits no one to do so.

Mirror images? Not at all. Indeed the real fun, the true magic comes in the differences. Each divergence a precious gift, the glory in the surprise of opening and exploring. A new chance for conversation and education. Seeds for new growth. Glue cementing bonds that may bend, but are not likely to break, having grown solid and strong in their endurance.

And so we, the six of us, ate and talked and laughed. Kvetched and teased and laughed some more.

Neither demanding anything fancy nor expecting anything in return. Just the cool evening air, filled with rousing jazz and blues. Our spirits mixing like the spices in the jambalaya dished up down the street. Becoming its own thing. Existing only in the times we share.

The soul of friendship. Pouring into us, like the sweet Hurricanes flowing from the bar taps. Floating around, enveloping, almost physically hugging each of us. Soothing past hurts. Fueling this moment. Building a bridge to whatever comes next.

Together.

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