“Judge not, lest you be judged.”

My father cherished friendship. He once told me, “You can count your real friends on one hand.” I remember that he once lost a friend, and it bothered him for the rest of his life. That friend said something he should not have said, and he never took it back.

My father died on Christmas Day fifty-nine years ago, but his words remain fresh in my ears. He understood that a real friend is more than someone you like or admire, or even in whose presence you take great pleasure. Such a person is that and more. He or she is someone in whom you put your trust, who puts up with your shortcomings, and who is loyal without asking questions. 

I don’t know what my father, a lifelong conservative, would make of our country today, or of so much else that makes this time different from the 1950s. On the subject of friendship, however, nothing has changed. The “one hand” rule still holds.

During the holiday season in 1983, my children and I were going through a difficult time, and we decided to take a trip. We were delayed for several hours in the Philadelphia airport, where we met a man and his family. Unlike me, his wife had thought to bring snacks, and their three children matched up with my three, almost to the day. Over the next week, on a beautiful Caribbean island, we four were with the five of them almost full time.

During the years that followed we developed a real friendship. Then, one day about twenty years ago, I called my friend, and he made it clear that he did not want to hear from me. It was as if we had never met, much less shared important times together. All contact between us ended, and I didn’t know why he had blown me off. 

I never mentioned this to anyone, but I thought about it quite a bit. Making a friend isn’t easy, and losing one is painful.

Not long ago, he sent me a letter of apology. Our last conversation had apparently been on his mind, and he wanted to make amends. “I have apologized to you many times,” he wrote, “but only in my head.”

I wrote back and told him I had always been grateful for that Christmas trip in 1983, when he and his family “rescued” my children and me at the airport, and for the friendship we had shared for many years. 

In mid-November, he and I met for dinner. We did not talk about that long-ago phone call or the break in our friendship. I didn’t raise the subject, and neither did he. Sometimes it is just as well to leave the past in the past. 

After two hours together, we parted on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. We agreed that it had been good to see each other and promised to stay in touch. The friendship may not be the same as it was, and I don’t know where it will go from here. I do know that we still enjoy each other’s company, and that is a good start to a new beginning.   

My friend and I are both Jewish, but telling this story during the Christmas season feels just right. His letter brought me good tidings, and I give him great credit for doing what must have been difficult, and what I could not have been the one to do.

And of course I have kept room for him on my hand of friendship, as I’m sure my father would have done.