You've Got A Friend

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Richard Swerdlow (Richard Swerdlow)

Herotodus said that ‘Of all possessions a friend is the most precious.’ Richard Swerdlow wholeheartedly agrees.

Every day about 152,000 people die. And, if you live long enough, someday you're bound to know one of those 152,000 people.

I recently knew one. She was relatively young, and left behind a husband and two sons. She wasn't ready to go. She fought hard against the cancer. But she knew the odds weren't good, since she worked as a nurse for 40 years.

At the memorial, there were photos and prayers. Then, unexpectedly, a group of women assembled in the front. They were large and small, short and tall, black, brown, white and Asian.

They burst into song: "You've got a friend" by Carole King, a song played endlessly on the radio in the 1970's, when she was in nursing school. "Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall" came their clear voices, "All you've got to do is call, and I'll be there. You've got a friend."


Turned out they had all been nursing students together, 40 years ago. They came from everywhere -- Philippines, Japan, Europe. Most of them hadn't seen each other in decades. They weren't the best singers, but their voices rang out:

"You just call out my name, and you know, wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again."

40 years ago, singing along to the radio while studying nursing textbooks, they never imagined fate would bring them together again to sing this song at the memorial of one of their own. But sooner or later, the music stops for all of us. And it made me think about friends I've lost track of.

As you grow up, and life happens, it's harder and harder to stay in touch with people who once meant a lot. Listening, I realized how rare friendship is, and how you never forget someone who was important, whether you studied together, played baseball together, or just shopped, giggled and sipped cocktails together.

Some relationships are formally acknowledged with ceremonies or holidays. But friends - the family we choose for ourselves - end up at bottom of the relationship food chain. Friendships may not mean exchanged rings, or vows, but I realized ‘til-death-do-us-part includes more than just marriage.

Each of those 152,000 deaths brings lessons, and here's what I learned from this one. Ain't it good to know, you've got a friend.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.