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Traveling at the Speed of Life column

If you read my column periodically, you know that there are several questions that I like to ask people I interview, but one in particular which I try to remember to ask almost everyone because it gets to the heart of everything. I believe I could write every column about someone's answer to this question so, I return to it when I am struck by a particularly thoughtful answer.

The question is, "What is the one thing that everyone should have regardless of the cost?"

During my recent interview of 2017 Somerset High School Salutatorian Michelle Schmitt, I was once again humbled by the wisdom of the generation destined to take the reins from our hands. She thought for a few moments and answered, "A best friend."

I like to think I have many really good friends. These are friendships that have stood the test of time and distance. They are priceless, invaluable parts of me.

Friendships come in all different shapes and sizes, so to speak. Lots of friendships are purpose specific, some are coincidental, many are passing or temporary, but best friends are held to a different standard.

I'm lucky, I grew up with my best friend, Mark, since we were little kids, right next door to each other. Some of our earliest experiences involved settling our differences with sticks and stones as kids often do. There have been periods where we have not stayed in touch, while I was away at school, when I moved to Chicago, but each time we would reconnect, usually over a fishing trip, and pick up right where we left off.

We grow. The world changes us. We can become complicated. We can't know at the beginning, what we will look like in the end. All we can count on is change. How best friends survive all the changes is the secret and the solution.

My best friendship is a matter of balance.

Many people tend to measure or qualify friendships based on degrees of honesty. Honesty is both public and private, how honest I am with myself and how honest I am with my friend. I believe that agreeing to disagree and biting my tongue are important tools in maintaining my best friendship. Equally as important is knowing when to speak out, to disagree and stretch the boundaries of that friendship. I weigh how often I have to employ those tools against the many benefits of our friendship as a whole to determine whether it is worth keeping.

Why is it prudent to hold my tongue on anything, you might ask. After all, we are best friends, don't we believe in the same things?

That's part of the secret. We do believe in some of the same things, but on other things, we disagree considerably.

We have substantially different views of the world politically and socially. We don't spend time trying to change each other's opinions. When we disagree, we joke. We both give in a little, let the other's opinion slide. Some might call it forgiveness. The jokes and political jousting are the currency of our friendship, but they are not the heart of our friendship. That lies much deeper and relies on a trust and loyalty built over a lifetime of shared experiences.

If I had to put my finger on exactly why we are still best friends, there is a connection beyond explanation. In a marriage, that might be the role of love. It provides the elasticity so important to longevity.

When the consequences really count, I am depending on my best friend not believing in any particular point of view so completely that he would act against it on my behalf if the circumstances demanded it. Based on the merits of a specific situation, I have his back and he has mine. He would put my safety, my well being before his own and I would do the same for him.

Overly dramatic, maybe, but you get the idea, putting someone else before yourself. That's one of those big ideas that makes moving forward possible. Best friends are big deals. They stand with you when it counts. They do not come along every day and they make all the difference in the world. Doesn't everyone deserve to have that regardless of the cost?

How can we have "say what we mean" communities and still function as supportive, engaged communities? One friendship at a time, that's how.