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Inside looking out: The anatomy of a friendship

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “Nothing in life is more necessary than friendship.”

I met Sean Cuffe several years ago, but to be honest, he met me. He was hired as a new teacher and I was assigned to be his mentor. He came to my house carrying a large notebook. We talked about the art of teaching that day and he didn’t write many notes, but now we could fill that notebook with life experiences and stories we have shared over the past 19 years.

You never know how a friendship will begin. No one awakens in the morning and says, “I’m going to go out today and find me a great friend!” They often begin circumstantially, like mine did with Sean just because we were teaching in the same school.

We discovered we liked the same baseball team, the perennially disappointing New York Mets and we enjoyed talking about low-budget horror movies and films that not many people have ever seen. On the darker side, but with a growing comfort between us, we helped each other move through failed marriages and relationships with women we thought we would love forever.

Sean has an ability to understand the motives of the people he encounters. He’s never quick to form an opinion about someone, whether it be a government official or the guy who lives next door. First impressions don’t mean much to him and his circle of life includes people with much difference in personality and character.

I find it refreshing when I see that a high school star athlete has a friendship with the trumpet player in the band or a man who pledges loyalty to the Republican Party has a best friend who always votes for Democrats. Sean welcomes all types into his social settings and his respect for your difference of opinion means he wouldn’t mind buying you a drink at the bar.

Some people put on different faces depending upon what company they share. Sean is genuine with everyone. And that’s what makes him a good friend. Aristotle said, “Friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror, they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons.” Sean’s natural and unintentional instinct is to help you learn something interesting about yourself you never knew before.

Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There is an enrichment of purpose when Sean and I engage in conversation. We trivialize daily life like everyone does, but we can talk for hours about philosophical ideas. We like to challenge each other with questions that we know have no factual answers, but leave us with a sense of wonder about what we’re supposed to do with this thing called life.

He is seriously contemplative and is never one to demonstrate emotion with a loud mouth or bursts of argumentative reactions. He is calm and deliberate before he speaks with thoughtful wisdom, a special quality that I have seen in very few people in my lifetime. He deeply cares about the world he lives in, and those who get to know him come to appreciate his extraordinary sincerity.

He does not take advantage of anyone to promote a self-conceived agenda. He is one of the most selfless people I have ever known, always willing to reach out to help others, whether it be a student who seeks extra instruction, a colleague in an emotional crisis, or anyone who is troubled by some sort of a dilemma.

Since my retirement from teaching and subsequent move to Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles now separate us. If it’s a week, a month or longer, he finds the time to text or call and has driven to my home several times for visits.

Since he maintains a very high standard for ethical behavior, you can’t help but set the bar of his level of virtues at the same height for yourself. Honesty and loyalty are foundations for redeeming human interactions, and that’s what you get from this Jersey guy.

Chinese philosopher Mencius wrote, “Friends are the siblings God never gave us.” As cliché as it might sound, Sean and I are soul brothers despite some difference in our age. Before the pandemic, he asked me if I would officiate his marriage next summer. I am both honored and humbled by his request and I know that I will feel his joy when I perform my portion of their ceremony, especially when he says, “I will” to love his bride for the rest of his life.

Aristotle was right when he said that friends are necessary. Even when they’re not with us, when we just think of them, they give us reasons to pause and to smile.

And I’ve been smiling ever since Sean Cuffe walked through my door carrying that notebook some 19 years ago.

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com.