Being a True Friend Can Require Agile Thinking

“False friendship, like the ivy, decays and ruins the walls it embraces; but true friendship gives new life and animation to the object it supports.” – Richard Burton

One important aspect of agile thinking is being able to change one’s perspective on the fly. This can be helpful not just in your business life, but in your personal one as well. There are times when being a friend requires that you think agile on your feet and look for a positive interpretation of what appears to be a negative situation. Here is a personal example.

I have a friend who is a retired physics professor. I call him Walton (not his real name) because he bears a remarkable resemblance to Ralph Waite of The Waltons fame. He and his wife also have 6 kids and 5 grandchildren. So they easily qualify as their own Walton family. I met him years ago in college when I was a lowly sophomore. We have kept in touch over the years through shared interests in physics and kite flying. Kite flying is an interesting hobby for me. Walton, however, is a kite flying fanatic. Since the weather was going to be fair, one fine fall Saturday morning, Walton thought it would be a great idea to go try out his newest kite design, a Mylar parabolic tetra kite.

He also thought it would be a great idea if I drove to his place early and treated him and his wife to my famed Chili toast for breakfast. They both are hopelessly addicted to Mexican food. I won a bet once, years ago, that I could come up with a novel Mexican twist on food quicker and better than they could. I won the bet hands down by inventing Chili toast. Chili toast is made like French toast only with a thinned chili sauce and sweet relish. Here’s how you make it. Crack three organic, free range chicken eggs in a bowl. Add ½ cup of your favorite chili that has been liquefied in a Ninja blender (or you can simple strain out the solids). Add 3 tablespoons of sweet relish. Beat with a blender for a minute or so and then drip in sliced corn bread, leaving them in to soak for at least 30 seconds. Griddle them until golden brown on each side. Serve it topped with cinnamon butter. The taste will have you dancing the La Cucaracha all day.

So one morning at 8 AM found me serving up nine stacks of Chili toast in Lysette’s, Walton’s wife’s kitchen. To be honest, Lysette did all the hard work, making the fresh corn bread ahead of time and had all the other ingredients ready and processed. All I did was batter and griddle. Afterwards, we dealt severely with all the stacks accompanied by a fantastically smooth coffee made mostly from Tanzanian Kilimanjaro coffee beans – did I remember to mention that Walton and Lysette were coffee freaks?

Thus fortified, Walton and I headed to his favorite spot at a nearby mountain range. When we arrived, I hopped out with my relatively simple shark kite. Meanwhile, Walton spent 15 minutes unpacking and assembling his 60” multifaceted monument to shiny parabolic curved surfaces. I offered to help, but Walton is finicky about having anyone handle his latest creations. So I simply headed leeward a bit and launched my black and red shark kite I call “Smiley.” I lofted Smiley in no time and waited to see how long it would take Walton to launch the novel design he applied the exciting moniker of MPT1 to (I told you he was a physicist).

Walton finally launched MPT1 by using a leader kite. That is the process of using a smaller kite launched first to actually pull a larger kite upwards from a stationary launch position. Once up, you release the connection to the leader kite and the primary kite is flying on its own power.

I did a few dips and whorls with Smiley, but mostly was just content to see him aloft enjoying the morning sunshine and clear fall skies as I was. Walton was reeling MPT1 out with a power reel. It was already far above Smiley. Walton is proud of his kites and a bit competitive. He, on occasion, will tease me about flying “relatively” simple kites like Smiley. So he was showing off a bit by allowing MPT1 to ascend so rapidly. Just as I was about to congratulate him, MPT1 suddenly veered left and began a rapid spinning crash dive.

Walton frantically tried to reel in the line with the power reel, but to no avail. MPT1 continued to plummet unabated and struck the ground hard. Walton immediately ran to his “baby” while I rapidly reeled in Smiley by hand. When I finally got over to where MPT1 had crashed, Walton was literally picking up the pieces.

It appeared that a critical joint had failed, causing MPT1 to become aerodynamically unstable. I commiserated with Walton, knowing how much work he put into this and how proud he was of his kite creations. I helped him carry the pieces back to his van. I tried to look at the event as if it wasn’t a disaster. I reminded myself that every failure in physics teaches us something.

Finally, I told Walton that the physics of his design were a spectacular success. After all, he was able to get the kite to ascend very rapidly. Furthermore, it was positively beautiful with its multitude of curved Mylar surfaces. I said it looked like a giant iridescent jewel in the sunlight. He had indeed succeeded! It was simply a mechanical failure that caused it to come down, and he could readily address it by structurally reinforcing the critical joints.

Walton stopped loading the wrecked kite and was quiet for a moment. He turned to look at me with a gaze touched with reminiscence. He said I was a rare good friend and that I honored our friendship. He emphasized the word “honored.” I replied that I valued friendship and tried to do more than pay lip service to it.

We finished putting the pieces of his smashed kite in the van and headed back to his house. As he was driving, Walton glanced over at me and told me a story about his great grandfather, Tobin. Walton was lucky enough up until the time he was 12 years old to have known him. Tobin was a kindly, gentle man. He had been an English teacher. He was 98 when he passed away and still very lucid. Tobin was a great storyteller, full of wisdom and simple truths. Tobin always somehow knew the best thing to say that would make Walton feel better.

Walton said Tobin always reminded him to honor his friendships and never be a lukewarm friend. Walton looked over at me and said Tobin practiced this every day of his life. He then said I reminded him of Tobin and that he too valued our friendship. Remember friends till next time – keep agile!

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