Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Honoring an old friend on his 75th birthday

Not long ago, I was contacted by a friend and asked to contribute a reflection for the 75th birthday of her father, also a friend. Both are from Sri Lanka and they were in my thoughts, this evening. With minor editorial changes to preserve anonymity, here is what I wrote.

Dear Sunil,

Congratulations and best wishes on your 75th birthday. Ours is one of those special friendships that I have valued and treasured for more than twenty-five years. In many visits to Sri Lanka, your home on Suleman Terrace was always a secluded, welcoming oasis after the rigors of international travel. On most trips you and Dushi were among the first friends who greeted me when I arrived and the last whom I saw before my departure. Your beautiful living-room, secluded garden and Dushi’s immaculate kitchen no longer exist, but will remain a vivid, living memory for as long as I have memories. [The new owner tore down their home to build a larger one.]

When I think of you, qualities that exemplify the best that Sri Lankan culture has to offer come to mind: warmth, a sense of humor, civility, hospitality and unflinching integrity. I have seen you sustain and hold fast to those qualities under the most challenging circumstances. If Sri Lanka is to resume its place among the world’s development success stories, it will be individuals such as yourself that will make it happen.

A particularly fond memory is the time we spent together visiting Thailand. One learns a lot about someone on an intense trip such as that one. It didn’t surprise me at all to discover that you were a graceful, accommodating and most congenial traveling companion.

No acknowledgement would be complete without highlighting your role as a family man; a devoted husband, father and, more recently, grandfather. In fact, it is hard to think of you apart from the effervescent Dushi. I think of you and Dushi as a unit, bound together by love, a lifetime of shared experiences, and deeply held spiritual values. After years of marriage, you have sustained the ability to remain best friends and have fun together, whether it is over the breakfast table, at an elegant social event, helping out with your grandchildren, or on the dance floor. How many couples can say the same?

So again, congratulations on your 75th. Thank you for serving as one of my valued mentors and role models for many years. I pray that, God willing, we will have many more years of friendship, shared experiences and good times together.


When I write a letter such as this - one gets more of such requests as one ages - I often think of it not only as an acknowledgement, but as an imperative to do better. I cannot help but wonder what my friends might wish to write about me, assuming they wrote candid, if faced with a similar request..

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