A few years ago on a Christmas Eve, I read an obituary announcing that Willard Steiner, father of close friend, Bill Steiner, had passed away. My heart went out to him, not only because of the loss of his father, but because it immediately reached into that part of my heart that stores the memories of my own father’s passing three days after Christmas in 1990.

The day after Christmas, I drove to the funeral home to pay respects to Bill’s dad. Because of the distance between us, and our own involvement with family and friends locally, it had been several years ago since Bill and I had seen each other, possibly as high as 10 years or more.

But that didn’t change anything as I was driving to Berne for visitation.

I first met Bill during Daily Vacation Bible School. Our bus would stop at the end of the lane at their Hartford Township farm to pick up Bill and his sisters. As we advanced into our teenage years, we became much closer as personal friends; sometimes it was in items of mischief, and sometimes in deep friendship chats.

Since the Wabash River flowed past the back part of their family farm, I would often stay all night at Bill’s for fishing expeditions. One of the most memorable is when we went fishing one day with several friends. Our success was such that we decided to cook supper for all of our families that night.

So, we barbecued fish on the grill, cooked baked potatoes and “corn on the cob,” made some lettuce salad, and possibly even made a feeble attempt at desert. We opened up the gigantic family table and supplied supper for Bill, his parents and his sisters, and our families. My dad and Bill’s dad led the charge at praising our “delicious” meal. Since they’ve now passed on to the other side, we’ll never know whether or not they were being completely truthful in their praise.

Bill and I both attended Fort Wayne Bible College. For two years we traveled throughout the Midwest on a Gospel team. Just prior to our sophomore year, we took a trip to the Smoky Mountains and Nashville, Tennessee. We hiked and took in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

One of the most memorable moments of that trip was when we fed cookies (from inside the car) to a bear that stood by my side of the car at Newfoundland Gap. All went well until Bill decided to pull his cookie back. The bear struck vehemently at the steering wheel. To this day, I don’t know how I got the window up fast enough to shut the creature out.

Other memories abound; Bill was the best man at my wedding in New Jersey. But once he moved to Wisconsin and we moved to various parts of the Midwest, the actual physical acquaintances of our friendship diminished greatly.

None of that mattered as I entered the funeral home the day after Christmas. I could hear Bill’s voice before I rounded the corner and waited in line to greet him. When we finally met, we embraced and chatted for a brief time. I hugged his mother and sisters. Once again I felt the vibes of family times from a different era, vibes that had never left because they represented the depth of true friendship.

His parents had come to the funeral home when my parents passed. I had last talked to them last summer at a gospel concert at the Gospel Barn in Bluffton on a Saturday night. But I hadn’t seen Bill for over 10 years.

None of that mattered when our eyes met for the first time in that visitation line. Bill glanced at me and gave me a big “thumbs up.” I don’t know if it was for the fish we caught that day, or the night we were invited into a certain a girl’s home after attempting some friendship mischief by her back door, or simply the friendship appearance.

All that mattered was the fact that our hearts connected at the sight of the other person. Years mean nothing in true friendship.

It’s no wonder that Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship.”