Monday, June 23, 2014

Going Above and Beyond the Fine Print of Friendship

When I was a kid, my favorite vice was bite-sized Milky Way bars. I'd eat 'em like... Well, like candy.

Thirteen-year old me after a Milky Way binge.
Once, some kind soul bought me a bag of them. (Mine! All mine! Mwah-hahaha!)

As I was scarfing down the chocolaty, nougaty, caramelly goodness, I pulled a wrapper out of the bag that was flat. Sealed tight, but empty. A dud.

My adolescent self was appalled. Convinced I'd been cheated, I wrote a letter to the Mars candy bar company detailing the problem and enclosing the offending wrapper as proof. No lie. I took my candy very seriously.

Some time later, I received a letter from (no doubt) some poor lackey with nothing better to do all day than respond to complaints like mine. The missive explained how the crucial "sold by weight, not by volume" legal loophole meant my dud wrapper was not, in fact, a personal affront. My bag of candy, as a whole, was patently not defective.


But then the letter writer did something else. He said that Mars, Co., the manufacturer of the object of my obsession, valued me as a client. The company didn't want to lose me over a little misunderstanding. So he was enclosing a sheaf of coupons for -- sweet Vidalia onion! -- free bags of Milky Ways.

That experience taught me several things. To begin with, it cemented in my mind the power of the written word. From a certain point of view, my letter of complaint was my first paid writing gig.

More importantly, however, it illustrated the merits of exceeding expectations, showing how going above and beyond what was required had real merit.

Lately, I've had the pleasure of encountering several people who have gone above and beyond the norm.

Going above and beyond: Fly! Be free!
One is photographer Scott Gane, the husband of Kim Jorgensen Gane, my #Write2TheEnd Writing Workshop co-facilitator. Scott was so enthusiastically supportive of #W2TE's mission to help writers set a goal and finish it that he became a #W2TE sponsor, offering his photography expertise to provide all Summer, 2014, participants with professional headshots. I was blown away by his generosity.

Then there is Alyson Peterson of Dirty Green Jello fame (@crzywritergrl on Twitter), one of my dearest virtual friends. We've never met, but we've Skyped and IMed and texted and emailed so often that I feel as if we've known each other since my Milky Way snarfing days. Not long ago, thanks to a friend's expertise, I was able to help Alyson with a problem that had been plaguing her. I was happy to help...

... but Alyson epitomizes "going above and beyond." She showered both my expert friend and me with heartfelt tokens of her appreciation. Which was totally unnecessary; we were just glad we were able to help. But that's what going above and beyond means. It transcends the original experience and elevates everyone involved.

A few weeks ago, my mother had a nasty fall that resulted in fractured facial bones, a brain bleed, and a lifeflight trip to UPMC. She's recovering well in a rehab hospital in Pennsylvania at the moment, while we all plan for what happens next.

Upon hearing of Mom's accident, my friends immediately offered to help. One, in Ohio, volunteered to take what remains of her vacation and use it to help me pack up Mom and Dad to move to Michigan. One offered to take her full-size van to PA to transport Mom here. Several others offered to either watch our place, to help with chores, or to help with the impending move. I don't know whether I'll take anyone up on their offers, but the point is -- they readily rose to the occasion.

I am so grateful for friends like these. They sweeten my life much more than a bag of bite-sized chocolatey decadence ever could. I am honored and humbled to be surrounded by so many people who routinely go above and beyond what convention dictates the "norm" should be. They may have read the fine print that says friendship is sold by weight and not by volume, but they ignore it on a regular basis, and together we all soar.