Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sam Thinks He Can . . . Befriend

I spent a couple of hours with Nathaniel Davis this morning. Nathaniel had a three hour layover at the airport on his way back to Beijing. We arranged for me to pick him up and grab lunch at the Mall of America before returning him to board his next flight. He doesn't usually get to travel through MSP during his yearly visits to his family in Pennsylvania. I'm not sure when we'll see one another in person again. Our regular instant messaging is not entirely satisfying. Being able to spend the time with Nathaniel was worth braving the season's first snow storm. After all, we've been friends since 2000 and have spent at least several hours together.

As I was storing today's photo of Nathaniel in the "Friends (snapshots)" folder on my computer, I had the chance to browse through the other snapshots in the folder and it struck me how lucky I am to have shared pieces and parts of my life with so many extraordinary individuals.

I also started thinking that I seem to have more people I consider friends (as opposed to acquaintances) than most of the people I know. In figuring out why that is the case, I decided to blog a lesson worth sharing. Nobody I meet gets taken for granted. Everyone has a life full of stories, experiences, advice, comedy, tragedy and spirit. I have never been self-centered enough to feel that my personal impact on the universe is any more important than anyone else's. Similarly, I don't sell myself short. I have much to offer.

The logical conclusion to be drawn from this "live and let live" attitude is that one can enhance one's own life experiences by paying attention to the experiences of others we meet. In so doing, we become invested in one another. If there is a "click", a perception of similar interests and values that leads one to want to enhance the investment, then why not expend the effort to retain the relationship, continue to share experiences, continue to learn from one another and continue to provide (and receive) the basic human comfort derived from friendship?

Nathaniel is a case in point. We met in October, 2000, in Hong Kong. He was a 25 year old kid (about half my age) working for one of my father's business colleagues, Annie Wu. I was spending a week with my law school roommate, Robert Cohen, who had acquired enough travel points to earn a free stay at the J.W. Marriott. Nathaniel was asked to take Robert and me to dinner at one of my father's favorite restaurants. In some scenarios, we would have had one dinner and forever parted company. In our scenario, Robert and I invited Nathaniel to accompany us as we explored Hong Kong. He became an invaluable English-speaking tour guide. We provided American companionship. We didn't spend a lot of time together during that visit, but the time spent was memorable.

After I left Hong Kong, Nathaniel and I kept in touch. During a subsequent business trip to Minnesota, Nathaniel stayed with our family. We picked up immediately where we had left off in Hong Kong, bonded by the shared experience (me, briefly) of being strangers in strange land. In the years since, Nathaniel has moved to Beijing and become involved in business development and promotion in China from a knowledgeable Westerner's point of view. I have been able to offer counsel from time to time. He has proved to be an invaluable resource for friends traveling to China. I am lucky to have him as a friend and am a better person for the window on the Far East he affords me. I have been rewarded for not taking my dinner host for granted and for taking the time to get to know him.

As I browsed the "Friends (Snapshots)" album, I saw a lot of "Nathaniels". I've posted some photos above. They were selected randomly and quickly out of the hundreds of images in the folder so if you are a non-posted friend reading this blog, please do not take it personally. Each individual pictured has made my presence on Earth a more interesting and happier experience. Some are wealthy; some aren't. Some are healthy, some aren't. One challenged Idi Amin at Entebbe. One helped start one of the country's largest computer sales company. One grew up on Gull Lake next to Grandview Lodge. One has an amazing 8-track collection. One used to tend bar for me in St. Cloud. One ignored my advice and didn't close down the St. Paul Winter Carnival. One named his son after me, much to the chagrin of his father-in-law.

The point is, they ALL have amazing stories to tell. I need only take the time to listen. I am honored by and cherish their willingness to share their lives with me. As noted above, I do not take that willingness for granted and try to live my life in a way that justifies the trust they place in me by including me in their lives. That makes them friends, not just acquaintances.

No comments: