Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Gift of Work Friends

There are all kinds of quotes honoring old and new friends, girl friends, guy friends, friends of friends (when your friend introduces you to their friend... and the two of you become even better friends?!), best friends, childhood friends and friends for a lifetime. But, I have yet to read one about a very special type of friend: those co-workers who become friends. I say this because I am richly blessed. I have so many colleagues who have not just become friends, but dear friends. Close friends. And, my recent visit to Washington DC reminded me how many of them are rooted in Sports and Spirituality.

At the historic and iconic Clyde's in Washington, DC

My friendship with Bill is a story of Spirituality and Sports. We taught in the Religious Studies department at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco for twelve years together. He and his wife Mary—who is also a treasure of a friend and former colleague—now live in Boyds, Maryland. He teaches at Georgetown Prep, Mary is at Holy Child and I teach at Saint Francis High School. 

Bill arrived at SI two years before I did and established himself as the RS 300: Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice level leader and World Religions guru. He brought a love for Thomas Merton—the true self, Thich Nhat Hanh—Living Buddha, Living Christ and Ecological Justice to our common curriculum. To this day, I still smile when I think of a student creation—a painting of the symbols for major world religions—that he stole from my classroom and hung on his wall. He was unapologetic in hijacking it; I have a feeling that painting  hangs today on the wall in Room 205. I learned so much about spirituality from him as both his friend and colleague.

Bill also coached boys and girls tennis, and teacher coach friends are a double bonus. With Bill, the game wasn't just something he taught and developed in his athletes—to this day, tennis colors his imagination, attention, calendar and more. And, as someone who has professed many times that tennis was and is my first love, this was a triple bonus. 

up close and personal with King Fed

Bill is unparalleled in his knowledge of  the men's and women's game, both past and present. How many more times can I identify this as a bonus in a friend!? I eagerly soaked up all that he knew— his updates, stories, stats and more. I remember a friend once gave me a lengthy profile from the New York Times about Roger Federer, Bill's favorite player I started reading it only to realize, I didn't need to finish it. Why? I already knew everything in the report thanks to Bill.

Working with your friends means you get to see them five days a week. And every September, during the fortnight of the US Open, I would tread lightly in the Religious Studies hallway until I knew one thing: if Bill knew the outcome of matches from the night before. Why? I came to learn this the hard way. I still remember the disdain—the shock and disappointment— on his face when I started talking about a certain upset in a quarterfinal match. Bill taped most of the tourney's matches, AND watched them too, so he would occasionally not follow things in real time. As a sports fan, I get it.  I'm proud to report I never made that same mistake. Furthermore, I did all that I could to keep my composure and not let my body language give anything away until he was ready to chat. Those are good memories. 

While I should say that a tennis highlight I share with Bill involves traveling with a group to Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open or connecting every July for the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, my favorite memory is not about a match but about meeting a player—one we grew up watching and integrating into our classes.

Taken in 2009, we went to Indian Wells—also known as "The Fifth Grand Slam."
At this tourney we met American tennis star, John Isner. While I slept in most days, Bill arrived at sunrise and stayed until the lights went out.
SI teachers and students will fondly remember that our Fridays once concluded at 1:00 pm. This schedule allowed Bill and me to meet the former number one player in the world— eight time grand slam champion—Andre Agassi. Three years after his retirement he released "Open: An Autobiography" which is one of my top 10 sports books. Even if he really does "hate tennis," the stories he shared at this book talk and signing is a memory I still treasure. 

There are more stories I could share—most are true, some are enhanced. Most of them are rooted in Sports and Spirituality but they all are made possible by a friendship born in the workplace.

Elie Wiesel had it right when he wrote "friends are the jewel of life." In fact, Mary—a friend from work taught me that quote. And, as I penned this post, I realized I could go on and on. For example, Mary—who teaches Spanish loves Nadal. Bill is a diehard Washington Football team fan. He is a Notre Dame fan too, thanks to his Dad. Their son Liam—who was born in San Francisco—is a Giants and Warriors fan. Great call Liam! And, I might add that over five years have now passed since we work together. I am so grateful that our friendship remains and our love for both Sports and Spirituality is but one way we stay connected.

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