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Posted: June 24, 2011 12:00 a.m.

What would we do without friends?

It should have been a simple evening based on a casual suggestion that six of us go out to dinner on a Wednesday night. But it turned out to be anything but simple.

First, one member of the six-some objected vigorously to the proposed restaurant. A second was suggested in a town nearby, but it was nixed when the looming specter of a summertime storm presented itself. A third choice in town was agreed upon, but when we got there, the air conditioning was out, the music too raucous, and there appeared to be a long wait. We headed to our fourth choice and found the power in the area had been out since 4:30 or so. At least, they could offer us a still cold beverage, so we settled into the darkening restaurant, enjoyed some laughs at the situation, bantered with the cute, young server and finally settled on our next destination. We found it open, quiet, cool and prepared to put some food on the table. We were ready by then, and continued laughing over dinner at how the night had turned out.

On our own, the experience might have been nothing but aggravating, but shared with good friends, it became an evening full of chuckles, camaraderie and shared stories of other simple misfortunes that in hindsight were laughable episodes meant for telling over and over. We learned some things about each other and made new memories.

Family gives you birth and molds you into the person who will walk the earth. Your early years are the most crucial in determining who or what you will become. You do not choose your family, but in most cases, it is a wonderful "choice" made for you. Even a less than nurturing home environment can produce strong-willed and purpose-driven lives.

But friends, they are the icing on the cake, and you get to choose them. Friendships are born of proximity or shared interests, at work or in the classroom, politics or passions, in church or at play, and today through all the social media options, you can become "friends" with people around the world that you might never even see.

There are, of course, famous friendships throughout time and literature. Think Lewis and Clark; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway; the Three Musketeers; Robin Hood and Little John; C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien; John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; and Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston. Laurel had Hardy. Holmes had Watson. Carrie had Samantha, Charlotte and Amanda. Sinatra surrounded himself with the Rat Pack. Scarlett had Melanie, although Melanie got the short end of that stick.

An author named Dinah Maria Mulock Craik penned this lovely tribute to friendship called, of course, "Friendship." "Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words - but pouring them all right out - just as they are - chaff and grain together - certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them - keep what is worth keeping - and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."

When the parents of a beloved friend died, she said she felt as if the frame around her life was gone, a thought well taken. I might describe the friends that I cherish as the pillows in my life. Sometimes they provide comfort, rest and relaxation, but sometimes they allow me to hide under their safekeeping when I feel knocked about or troubled over things well out of my control. (Now remember, friends, I'm not describing your shapes as pillow-y, only your effect!)

Acquiring friends can just happen for any of the reasons mentioned earlier.

But keeping friends requires some effort. To have a friend, one must be a friend, as the old saying goes. It requires paying attention and being there for the people you hold dear. Sometimes it means reading between the lines.

Sometimes it means talking, sometimes it means being a lookout, a guard or a witness to someone's life, but most often, it involves listening, not just with your ears, but also with every sense you possess.

One of life's most important lessons for me has been the understanding that most people just want to be heard, to be really and truly listened to, to have their thoughts, feelings and needs acknowledged and affirmed, not judged, autopsied or diagrammed. That's where friends come in. "People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world," Streisand sang. My life is all the richer for my friends. I hope you can say that too.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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