Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Lonesome Dove Conversation

How strong is your strongest friendship?

This is a conversation we have at work periodically,which always flows out of a discussion of the movie Lonesome Dove. The flick is a classic western (based on a book by Larry McMurtry), starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in an epic tale of friendship, right vs. wrong, and the American west. Retired Texas Marshalls, Captains McCrae (Duvall) and Call (Jones) are partners in a cattle ranch, and they often have to clear out the wrongdoers in the area and restore justice. Beginning in Texas, the tale moves the audience in glorious western fashion more than 1,000 miles north to the land of the big sky, Montana. McCrae is the ever-likable, slightly devilish protector while Call is the crustier, slightly brooding lawman who seems to have a gooey center -- if you could ever get to it. The two prove their loyalty and trust with one another throughout the movie, but never more so than in McCrae's dying wish he asked of Call.

And what did he ask? McCrae asked, upon his death, that Call take his body back to Texas to be buried under a certain tree which held a special memory for McCrae. In today's world, that would be a rather easy feat but in the time frame of the movie - the 1800s - transporting a body over 1,000 miles without the availability of a train is nothing less than epic. Yet, Call does just that. By horse and wagon, over rough trails, crossing rivers, in dizzying sunlight, and alone -- Call fulfills McCrae's dying wish, all because he made a promise to a friend.

This is where we delve into the deep questions at work: Do you have a friend who you would fulfill this same wish if asked? Of course, being that the department in which we are having this discussion is nicknamed the "Animal House" for its fraternity-like behavior with the mostly male staff, you can bet the question was posed in a more crude fashion. In fact, the phrasing is closer to, "Are you a good enough friend that you would drag my dead --- across country if I asked you?" The discussion that follows is both insightful and humorous.

"I don't know if I have a friend who would do that for me," one man said. This left me and another woman, Sheryl, to instantly take on the face of, "oh, how sad." Women tend to understand the bonds of deep friendship more readily. We felt sorrow for the man at the utterance of his statement, until he followed with, "And I don't think I would do that for anyone else." Well, that explains it. You won't ever receive if you don't first give. Friendship is a two-way street.

Sheryl and I elaborate on the topic, listing friends whose bodies we would transport in such fashion if asked, as well as ones who would likely do the same for us. Our lists are not long, which is not the point, but we each have a few names, which is. Friendships outside the traditional pair-bonding are important to the overall human experience, and add depth with feelings of loyalty, compassion, and support. We know there are some friends we can always call for a laugh when we need, ones to call when we need advice, and ones to call when we need help. Many times those calls are wrapped up into our one great friend, like it was for McCrae and Call, while others of us find these gifts in several strong friendships. Whatever the dynamic, a good friendship can withstand a lot, including outlandish dying wishes.

Once in a while, Sheryl and I pass each other in the stairwell and laughingly say, "I would carrying your dead body across country if you asked me." We laugh at the ridiculousness of the statement, but not at the underlying meaning. A friend who would promise to fulfill such a wish is a friend indeed, and these friendships should be both cherished and nurtured.

On my drive home from work, I pass a small antique shop aptly called "Lonesome Dove Emporium." It is a daily reminder of the importance of friendship -- deep friendship -- and all the lovely layers of life those friendships bring. I always think of the question when I pass the store.

So how strong is your strongest friendship? Would it withstand the Lonesome Dove test?

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