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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What a friend does

Jack tossed the papers on my desk -- his eyebrows knit into a straight
line as he glared at me.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

He jabbed a finger at the proposal. "Next time you want to change
anything, ask me first," he said, turning on his heels and leaving me
stewing in anger.

How dare he treat me like that, I thought. I had changed one long
sentence, and corrected grammar -- something I thought I was paid to do.

It's not that I hadn't been warned. The other women, who had served in
my place before me, called him names I couldn't repeat. One co-worker
took me aside the first day. "He's personally responsible for two
different secretaries leaving the firm," she whispered.

As the weeks went by, I grew to despise Jack. It was against everything
I believed in -- turn the other cheek and love your enemies. But Jack
quickly slapped a verbal insult on any cheek turned his way. I prayed
about it, but to be honest, I wanted to put him in his place, not love him.

One day, another of his episodes left me in tears. I stormed into his
office, prepared to lose my job if needed, but not before I let the man
know how I felt. I opened the door and Jack glanced up.

"What?" he said abruptly.

Suddenly I knew what I had to do. After all, he deserved it.

I sat across from him. "Jack, the way you've been treating me is wrong.
I've never had anyone speak to me that way. As a professional, it's
wrong, and it's wrong for me to allow it to continue," I said. Jack
snickered nervously and leaned back in his chair. I closed my eyes
briefly. God help me, I prayed.

"I want to make you a promise. I will be a friend," I said. "I will
treat you as you deserve to be treated, with respect and kindness. You
deserve that," I said. "Everybody does." I slipped out of the chair and
closed the door behind me.

Jack avoided me the rest of the week. Proposals, specs, and letters
appeared on my desk while I was at lunch, and the corrected versions
were not seen again. I brought cookies to the office one day and left a
batch on Jack's desk. Another day I left a note. "Hope your day is going
great," it read.

Over the next few weeks, Jack reappeared. He was reserved, but there
were no other episodes. Co-workers cornered me in the break room.

"Guess you got to Jack," they said. "You must have told him off good." I
shook my head.

"Jack and I are becoming friends," I said in faith. I refused to talk
about him. Every time I saw Jack in the hall, I smiled at him. After
all, that's what friends do.

One year after our "talk", I discovered I had cancer. I was 32, the
mother of three beautiful young children, and scared. The cancer I had
were not great for long-term survival. After surgery, I visited with
friends and loved ones who tried to find the right words to say. No one
knew what to say. Many said the wrong things. Others wept, and I tried
to encourage them. I clung to hope.

One day, the door darkened in my small hospital room and Jack stood
awkwardly on the threshold. I waved him in with a smile and he walked
over to my bed and, without a word, placed a bundle beside me. Inside
lay several bulbs.

"Tulips," he said.

I smiled, not understanding.

He cleared his throat. "If you plant them when you get home, they'll
come up next spring." He shuffled his feet. "I just wanted you to know
that I think you'll be there to see them when they come up."

Tears clouded my eyes and I reached out my hand. "Thank you," I whispered.

Jack grasped my hand and gruffly replied, "You're welcome. You can't see
it now, but next spring you'll see the colors I picked out for you." He
turned and left without a word.

I have seen those red and white striped tulips push through the soil
every spring for over ten years now. In fact, this past September the
doctor declared me cured. I've seen my children graduate from high
school and enter college. I've celebrated twenty-two years of marriage
with my husband.

In a moment when I prayed for just the right word, a man with very few
words said all the right things.

After all, that's what friends do.

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