So, Thanksgiving is upon us. Yes, for sure, there is much to be grateful for, blessings we must count — perhaps chief among them, each other, this America, this novel experiment in convergence of differences. By Providence, we are a part of it, with family and friends.

Do you have a good friend? Not talked in a while? Maybe he or she is a Democrat, and you a Republican? Or perhaps the other way round? Maybe this is a good time to give him or her a ring, at Thanksgiving. No? Just too hard, still? There is always tomorrow? Well, maybe.

I had a great friend. We grew up together. Went sliding on snowy hills together, winters in Maine. We were kids together. Worked mowing lawns, plumbing, minor carpentry together summers. We shared an appreciation for good fun and hard work. All small-town stuff, just life.

He went off to college, and so did I. He went farther away. I stayed in New England. He was a singer and actor, other-regarding person by nature, half loyal friend, half wise man, part Frodo, part Gandalf. I was just a talker, ended up in law school, the military, eventually moved south. But we always came home, broke bread as neighbors and friends, laughed at life together.

He went into the Peace Corps, lifted people, that young American in Indonesia. Imagine, from Maine to Indonesia, remarkable. I went to graduate school abroad, worked in New York and D.C., counted myself a Republican, worked for Reagan and Bush 41. He counted himself a Democrat, threw himself into local government. Still, we always came home, laughed at life together.

He got married, had two kids, moved back to Maine. I got married, had two kids, could not figure out how to move home, so did what good I could out of state.

Having seen the world, he bought the home he grew up in, raised his kids in it. I visited Maine often, still do, but have yet to figure out the move home. We still poked fun at life together, visiting summers — winters too, once in a while.

Just over a year ago, I was home. Again, I laughed with him over the state of American politics. Our discussion was of a type. We knew on some things we would never agree. Yet we both knew we would always listen, and respect the need for each other to speak, even strong opinions, and respect where they came from.

Shortly after that November meeting, he wrote me a note. “The Republicans need you Bobby… and the Democrats need me.” We could see eye to eye, through the crowd. We could hear one another’s voices through the cacophony. In effect, he was saying, we need not agree. On some things, we never will, but we can talk with each other, smile and share a beer, coffee and laugh.

That business of talking with each other, listening earnestly to opinions with which we knew we disagreed, changing at the margins in deference to truth, despite our different lives — that was important. To both of us. Behind it all, we knew we had both been blessed, mightily. We were lucky, Americans. That was what most mattered, knowing our lucky lot and acknowledging it. His note was about keeping the bridges, remaining ambassadors of good will from differing philosophical worlds, always able and willing to listen, never to let the bridge go down.

In the intervening year, shortly after our November talk, I thought of calling, but did not. The Republican-Democrat business was getting edgy. Again at Christmas last and after the new year, I thought of calling or emailing. Trump and Clinton clashed, and much happened this year. Topping it all, Trump won.

After the election, I wanted to call and talk or email with my hometown friend, just reaffirm the bonds and laugh together. Not to poke or gloat, since we did not do that, but to remember and look ahead, share a healthy mix of optimism, consolation and commiseration. That is what I thought of doing.

But at age 57, old to some but young to me, my friend suddenly died this year. As I sit here, I miss that call, the common understanding, a perspective that my Democratic friend and I always had on politics. Politics was important, but secondary to laughing at life. I miss the bond, the centering, and transcendence brought by our little talks, and shared laughter.

So if you have a friend like that, or one you might call but haven’t, maybe this is the season. You still have not talked since the election? You say, he’s a Democrat, you a Republican, or is it other way around? Well, what say, you give a shout? No, still not ready? OK, maybe tomorrow? Yes, maybe. Or maybe it is just worth calling today.

In the end, we are all Americans. We do share a mighty lucky lot in life. We all have more in common, more to laugh about and give thanks for, than anything over which we might cry. We have big reasons to be thankful, this and every Thanksgiving, still do. Providence shines on this country, on all of us. Please do not forget that.

So, my friend would probably regale me with consternation and furrowed reflections — about which I would think hard. I would counter, contemplating and offer some consolation. Then we would both laugh, and go have a beer.

Breathe easy, whether Republican or Democrat, this Thanksgiving — and give your old friend a call. Together, laugh with one another and at this life, and then raise a glass to America.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, lawyer and writer, who grew up in Wayne Maine – and often returns.


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