When our son, Benjamin, was born, John and I were a presenting team couple for Worldwide Marriage Encounter. It is an organization dedicated to enriching marriages and renewing the church through the sacrament of matrimony. We were new to presenting and were spending a lot of time preparing talks and meeting with the other couples in the Rochester Marriage Encounter community. One of the couples we were closest to was Ed and Leonor Rivera. We have probably spent millions of hours with them since our Marriage Encounter weekend in 1992. They have helped us have a better marriage and family life through their great example. We love and admire them, but they are not the subject of this blog post.
Ben was born in January, 1994. Ed and Leo’s son, Sean, was born in August, 1994. Because we were spending a lot of time with the Riveras, we suspected that Ben and Sean would grow to become friends. We had no idea.
Before Ben and Sean learned to speak English, they could communicate with each other. They developed a kind of “twin” language, words and sounds that had meaning only to themselves. We would be traveling, the two of them in side by side car seats, and we would listen, amazed, as they babbled and entertained each other with this language. Ben, being older, would often translate this language for Sean, letting us know if there was something Sean needed. We lived an hour apart, but spent so much time together that the two grew to become best friends. They each had their own school and neighborhood friends, but they forged a bond with each other that was remarkable.
Our middle son, Sam, and the Riveras oldest son, Jordan, are also close in age. They were also best friends for a while. But, as time passed, they developed vastly different interests and grew apart. They like each other and are friends, but have lost that “best friend” closeness. We worried about what would happen when Ben and Sean grew apart. We worried that one of them might be hurt if the other one found a new best friend. Still, every time we were with the Riveras, Ben and Sean would go off together and pick right up where they left off.
As the years passed, we moved to Rochester, closer to the Riveras. Ben and Sean spent time together. Sean’s big brother attended McQuaid and we knew that Sean would be going there as well. We were so thrilled when Ben won a full academic scholarship to McQuaid. We were excited about the great Jesuit education he would receive, but more excited that he would finally be going to school with his best friend Sean.
We wondered whether Ben and Sean’s friendship would remain strong amid the competition and busyness and schedules of McQuaid. Sean and Ben both had school friends who would be entering McQuaid with them. Would these friendships be a barrier to Ben and Sean’s friendship? Our worries were unfounded. Ben and Sean fell into a routine at school that included spending time together whenever they could. Once in a while, over the last few years, they have had a class together. Usually, though, it is at lunchtime and during a “flexible” free time during the school day that they see each other. Ben and Sean, Ben’s friends, Sean’s friends, and some new friends, all blended together to become a small “brotherhood” among the larger brotherhood at McQuaid.
Sean has had a lot of extracurricular activities, while Ben has not been much of a joiner. Sean has rowed Crew all through high school. Ben was content to go to Crew meets and cheer the team on. Sean grew close to his Crew team members, but Ben has never seemed to feel left out. Last year, Ben finally found a sport that suits his “fun over competitiveness” personality – Ultimate Frisbee. This was Ben’s thing, and Sean wasn’t interested. Still, their friendship was not affected by their separate interests. Last year, McQuaid started a FIRST Robotics team. Sean signed right up. Ben was hesitant. Even though he was taking a robotics class in school, he was not ready to join the team. This year, though, Ben and Sean have been on the Robotics team together. In fact, they were on the same sub-team, the Drive Team that built the robot base and wheels and motor.
At the FIRST Robotics competition this weekend, I had a chance to observe Ben and Sean together. Of course, I have seen them together a million times at our house and at the Rivera’s house and at school and at events. This weekend, as I watched them, I was more amazed than ever at their friendship. These two young men and their friendship are so interesting. They are different and yet they share so much history. There is an easiness about them that is hard to describe. They don’t compete with each other. They know each other and accept each other for who they are. I try to think about who else in the world might have a friendship like theirs – born of almost 17 years of spending time together. Maybe cousins, who grow up seeing each other often from the time they are born. Maybe neighborhood kids, if neither of them ever moved away. I can’t help but think that not many people ever have a best friend as close as Sean is to Ben. Observing the two together this weekend, I couldn’t help but think that I can learn a lot about true friendship from Ben and Sean. I think it’s all about acceptance and unconditional love, and I want to develop both of these qualities in myself so that I can be a better friend.
What a blessing Ben has in his friendship with Sean. Our involvement with Marriage Encounter has given us many gifts, but I can’t believe that any of them are more significant than the friendship that has grown between these two young men. I have no doubt that they will remain Friends and Brothers forever.