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Experience October/November 2023

Thank You for Being a Friend

Stanley Peter Jaskiewicz


  • There are various levels of connection that people can share and these relationships, whether acquaintances, friends, or others, can add meaning to one's life.
Thank You for Being a Friend Bruyeu

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What is a friend? There may be people who touch your life even though they don’t meet the traditional definition of a friend. As I’ve learned in recent years you can still share bonds with them and value them in ways you never anticipated.

Friends, clients, acquaintances

For some, a “best friendship” requires romantic attraction []. (I have to distinguish the “best friend on steroids” relationship with a spouse. That’s something altogether different, unlike everything discussed in this article.)

Other friendships arise in a family. Harry Nilsson sang about a close father–son bond in a beloved television series’ theme song [].

Personally, my best friendships have developed in a different way—with fellow trumpet players in our college marching band.

Not only did we recently celebrate our 40th reunion, but over the years since we graduated, we’ve also attended each other’s weddings and mourned the losses of our parents.

I also met my best high school friend in our band. He unfortunately passed away far too young.

But certainly not all friendships are romantic, or even close. For example, although I enjoyed seeing co-workers when I occasionally visited my office during the pandemic (, I don’t consider them all my friends.

Similarly, clients sometimes assume they’re my friend. Although that relationship can develop, it’s not inevitable. Instead, I view a work-related relationship as more of an acquaintance than a friendship. I enjoy seeing them, but not in the same way as I appreciate my family members or school buddies.

Conversely, long-time friends can become clients—which can threaten a real friendship, especially if billing (and collections) become an issue.

Of course, acquaintance relationships are still important to me. But they’re more transactional.

I see co-workers as a function of doing my job (or at least I did pre-pandemic). Relationships with them are also generally time limited, unlike the enduring bonds formed in college.

No matter how close I may become with a co-worker, acquaintance relationships rarely survive a retirement, or change of firm. For example, my acquaintances and I generally aren’t together outside of the reason for seeing each other. I don’t see most classmates between reunions. I don’t socialize with co-workers or clients outside the office or firm social events.

Perhaps the distinction is that I don’t have the same intentionality about creating these bonds as I did when I developed my friendships.

Those relationships in between

But there are others with whom I choose to spend time, even though they’re not my friends. I label these a third category of relationships: people unrelated to me but with whom I have a bond that goes beyond a mere acquaintance.

Is there is a word for more than an acquaintance but less than a friend? Yes! Thanks to Dr. Google, I learned that psychologists have coined a term for that status, one I’d never heard of until researching this article. Do you know who your consequential strangers [] are?

Although I’ve never used that label until this article, I can easily identify many people in that intermediate status. Let me tell you about two of them and how our consequential stranger relationships came to exist.

The most recent one is a former firm employee, whom I’ll call Mary. She called me unexpectedly for help in early 2022 fearing imminent eviction—more than 30 years after she’d last worked with me at our firm.

She’d been our firm’s night secretary when such a position still existed. It was so long ago that word processing was a specialty skill and remote access was unknown. As a young corporate associate, after-hours work was the rule rather than the exception.

And the work product was typed and corrected manually (although there was a centralized word processing office for large documents). I often had to stay late to handwrite revisions, to send them to clients, on paper, before the post office closed or to beat the FedEx deadline (whether at local drop boxes or even at the airport gate). As a result, I spent a lot of time with the night typing staff, including Mary.

But when Mary recently called me out of the blue, I had no recollection of her whatsoever.

Yet she was able to recall precise details about our offices as they existed in the early 1990s, including where I and others sat, so I listened to her problems.

She was desperate. She feared being put on the street at 75 years old, with severe disabilities and no income other than public assistance.

Paying it forward

Although her story became more complex, I continued to listen. You see, I recognized myself in 2019. While home recuperating from unexpected open-heart surgery, I received a call from a suspicious county coroner. Another former co-worker had been found dead, and my name was all over her house: “In case of emergency, call Stanley Jaskiewicz.”

That much was easy to explain. She had named me executor under her will. She worked for the name partner for whose clients I did most of my work and had asked me to be her executor.

Personally, she’d also helped comfort my mother in her final battle with cancer, not long after I had joined the firm.

My mother had found great comfort in petting her large dogs, which were docile with her, but not with males. I appreciated my co-worker’s kind offer and gladly drove my mother to her house—but locked my car doors and waited while she spent time with the Dobermans.

I’d also referred her to a local real estate agent when she wanted to sell a rental property. I’d met the agent, a Rotarian, when I ran a Challenger baseball league for players with disabilities sponsored by the Rotary. As a result, my co-worker developed a rapport with the agent and had begun planning to sell her home through the real estate agent’s company.

This former co-worker’s unexpected death accelerated not only the sale but also my recuperation from my surgery. Although I hadn’t been online after my surgery until that morning, I had to make immediate arrangements for her remains and the care of her property.

Since I was very limited in what I could do physically at that point, the agent was truly heaven sent. I lived about 14 miles away from the home and hadn’t yet resumed going online or walking stairs, much less driving. The agent did virtually everything needed to prepare and maintain the property until the sale closed early in the pandemic. She even drove my co-worker’s well-organized records to my home so that I would have them available to handle her estate.

Remembering that kindness in my own time of need, I vowed to do no less for Mary than what the agent had done for me. I was now the helper who’d been volunteered, and Mary was a victim of circumstances in need of help. In fact, when Mary called, I immediately recalled a Biblical passage I’ve heard more times than I can count. Luke 10:29–37 []. I quickly connected Mary with a social service agency I knew that helped disabled seniors. She soon was in a new apartment she could afford.

A chatline of sorts

Thrilled with this result, Mary continued to call me with challenges she faced over the next year. I suspect she also simply enjoyed having someone with whom to speak other than her home health aides.

Since she called on an irregular schedule and liked to joke with me, she sometimes wound up speaking with both me and my wife—on evenings and weekends. I generally had to tell her, however, that I knew nothing about what to do about her actual problems. A career in business law is no preparation for urgent poverty and elder law work.

But I did have a referral network, particularly for the needs of persons with disabilities.

Over the following weeks and months, I continued to connect her with the agencies she needed.

The more we spoke, however, the more I was amazed at the coincidences in our lives, independent of our law firm connection. For example, as I discovered at, her parents are buried at the same small neighborhood cemetery as my grandparents.

Based on the similarities in our challenging medical histories, I also encouraged her to seek medical attention for several chronic conditions she had mentioned when we spoke. I was less successful on that front.

As I write this, Mary has been hospitalized for some time and may never get her wish—to return to independent living in her apartment. A guardian ad litem has just been appointed on the petition of the hospital treating Mary.

I hope the guardian will succeed where I couldn’t, in helping her get the medical care she desperately needs. But she is glad to explain, usually lucidly, why she doesn’t want such care and her accurate understanding of what will happen to her without it.

I could never have imagined how much time I would spend helping Mary when she called me out of the blue. In hindsight, I appreciate that helping her led to an ongoing relationship. And I will still call her to check in on how she’s doing.

United in a purpose

I first met another consequential friend who has enriched my life, whom I’ll call Amir, during our service on a nonprofit board. We came from radically different cultures and lifestyles. I was an Oscar to his Felix [].

But for the board service, we probably never would have met unless we happened to bump into each other at a local grocery store. Through that service, we quickly realized we were united in the intensity of our mutual support for the nonprofit’s mission.

We served during a challenging time for the organization. A grassroots spinoff of a church ministry, it served a pressing community need—alleviating hunger among the working poor in a prosperous community. But its facilities had long been inadequate.

Fortunately, foundations were willing to fund its growth, but at a price. They had a clear vision of how the organizational mission should develop. The board faced alternative paths. Most members favored simply maintaining the mission, with the additional financial support to fund a new facility.

Amir and I, in contrast, held out for a more aggressive strategy favored by the foundations. We preferred keeping a focus on helping those most in need but with expanded programming.

After many tense board and committee meetings, we were able to persuade the other directors to our view. The organization now occupies a dynamic multi-agency campus that serves the community well.

We had both transitioned off the nonprofit’s board when we had reached our term limits. I’ve visited Amir’s home only once, for a holiday social gathering, and he has never been to mine. But we’ve kept in touch on social media.

While I don’t consider either Mary or Amir as my friends in the same sense as my college band classmates, they’ve both enriched my life. And I hope I’ve had the same impact on them.

Acquaintances, friendships, and a spouse—I’ve been fortunate that I’ve experienced all of them as a part of my life.