my buddy - you've enriched my life
By Joseph Sheppard
September 19, 2006 | Friendship is a funny thing. When
we look for someone to make a friend with, we generally
look for someone we think is like us. Someone who acts
like us and shares the same interests. We look for someone
who is witty or intelligent or fun.
But some of the richest friendships are with those
that are completely unlike us. That's the case in one
of the friendships that I most value -- my friendship
with Joe Roberts.
It seems that society always needs someone to pick
on. Such was the case in my high school where from the
ranks of the socially awkward, the student body chose
one student on whom to focus is persecution. That person
Joe was pretty slow. He was severely behind in his
formal education, but the greatest evidence of his backwardness
was the fact that he didn't recognize the ridicule he
received. Joe considered any attention short of a physical
beating to be friendship and admiration.
The crowd most enjoyed making fun of his aspiration
to become a country singer. He would carry his guitar,
which he couldn't play, around the halls of the high
school. The students would make requests and then convulse
in laughter as he randomly plucked strings and twanged
an off-tune melody. He thought those that made the most
fun of him were his biggest fans.
My friend, Jon Ader, and I were both disgusted at
how our classmates treated Joe. So we decided to take
him under our wing, because it seemed the right thing
to do. We talked to him in the halls, gave him rides
to and from school, invited him over occasionally on
weekends, and took him with us on our big group dates
for school dances.
It wasn't the most convenient friendship ever. Joe
really could be pretty obnoxious. He was loud, had terrible
manners, and constantly called us up for a ride or to
involve us in some crazy problem. For example, if there
was a lull during a student assembly, Joe would leave
the stands and grab the microphone. He was going to
sing a little song to heat things up and would Jon Ader
and Joseph Sheppard come down and be his backup singers?
We certainly didn't work up the social ladder through
him, either. But we genuinely liked him. Joe was a lot
of fun. He had a sense for what the high school experience
should be and was determined have that experience. One
of my favorite photographs from high school is of Jon,
Joe and I proudly posing with my 1986 Mazda 323. Joe
was carrying a camera with him and said that we needed
a picture of us posing with it, so we got that classic
high school picture taken.
Joe enjoyed our friendship and with our help he worked
on some of his bad habits. He gave up smoking for us.
He picked it up again after high school, but later dropped
it with some encouragement. He started attending church
more regularly and began associating with people that
treated him well.
Joe was good at giving back. His friendship for us
was dauntless -- he would be our buddy until the end.
He gave us gifts, odd things that he took a fancy to.
Take for example, the bronze cobra incense burner he
gave me for Christmas one year. I didn't burn incense,
and neither did he. It probably caught his eye at the
state fair and he decided to give it to his friend.
We had started out wanting to help him simply because
the way the students treated him wasn't right. Now I
would give my right arm to help him because of my love
for him. And I wouldn't give up the place I have in
his big pure heart for all the social prestige in the
These days I only see Joe about once a year when I
go home to visit my family. He still aspires to be a
country singer and he still says Jon Ader and I are
his two best friends