It must have irritated my parents when I spoke my first word. It wasn’t “mama” or “da-da”, the expected subjects of a baby’s initial attempts at verbal communication. It was the name of my dog.
“Lady” was my first and best friend. She was loyal, of course; she was also courageous and forgiving: three attributes which have defined friendship for me ever since.
I could always depend of Lady to join me in a game of catch or tag or even hide ‘n’ go seek. She never had to go home because her mother called for her, leaving me alone and bored. Better still, she usually let me pick the games. And she let me win. It was as if her main goal in life was to make sure I was happy.
And she wanted me safe. One time (according to my mother) I was asleep in my bed while my mother was vacuuming the house. As mom drove the vacuum cleaner ever closer to my bedroom door, Lady became agitated. She hated that vacuum cleaner – feared it, actually, for reasons only she knew – and she didn’t want it threatening me in any way. She dashed for my door, placed herself between the vacuum cleaner and me, and trembling all over with fright and anger refused to budge – a canine Horatio at the bridge. She was willing to sacrifice herself for me.
She was also willing to overlook my faults, no matter what. If I forgot to feed her, she would bark at me and run to her empty bowl, looking at the emptiness and then turning her gaze on me with expectation. But never reproof. She wanted me to know that she understood my occasional lapses of memory and that no matter what, she was still my “best friend”. When I came home from school angry or sad, she was there to cheer me up; when I was sent to my room for some juvenile infraction, she shared my imprisonment because as far as she was concerned, I could never be that bad. I told her all my darkest secrets and my hidden fears, knowing that Lady would understand without passing judgment.
The circumstances of our lives are constantly changing, our surroundings change, and we find ourselves changing with them. What does not change is our need for friendship. It is as if friends – or that one special friend – provide an anchor in a restless sea of change. Lady was my first best friend. When she died, she left a hole in my heart. She also left an incredible legacy: my belief in the importance of friendship, and what it means to be a friend. Lady left me with my belief that in a changing world, friendship is forever.