A Friend in Need is a Friend In Deed

Years before becoming an educational and healthcare keynote speaker, I was doing a breakout session at the Oklahoma Education Association conference. I was nervous and tense because it was the first time I was ever speaking on stress. Matters were not made easier because the entire time I was speaking, coming through the accordion walls separating the sessions, was an uproarious chorus of laughter, music, and joy.

After my session I had to meet the person responsible for such merriment. In the next room I found a mob of teachers surrounding what can only be described as a cowboy. He looked like he’d dismounted his horse, come into the convention center to ask for directions to the rodeo, and, upon seeing a group of stressed out teachers, decided to entertain them. The only thing missing was a campfire.

When the horde dispersed I introduced myself and he responded, “I’m Michael Johnson.” With that began a friendship that has grown over the past 15 years. Michael freely counseled me on the business side of speaking and inspired me to improve my performing skills. Although we’ve become peers, we have never become jealous of each other. We often recommend each other for work and continue talking monthly.

We speak on the phone but rarely see each other in person. That is why I was so excited when I was booked to be the closing keynote speaker for the Association for Nursing Professional Development convention in Dallas because it allowed me the opportunity to visit Michael.

Pulling into Michael’s east Texas ranch I was excited to spend time with him. Michael immediately introduced to his long-time friend, Jerry Lytle, and a roping buddy, Bronc Fanning. Showing up wearing running tights, running shoes, and a t-shirt I was dressed more like Michael’s wife, Sherry, than the three men. The men were all dressed in boots and Wranglers. (Last year, I needed to buy a new pair of jeans for my comedy club work and thought I should try something other than Levi’s, I asked Michael what he wore. He responded, “Wranglers because it says to in the Bible.”)

Shaking Bronc’s hand felt like having my hand encased in granite as it was hard from years working with his beloved horses. We ate dinner, drank a few Bud Lights, and told stories on Michael and Sherry’s porch until late into the night.

The following morning after Sherry went to work, Bronc, Michael, and I were joined for breakfast by Michael’s roping buddy, Jerry Vessel . I felt like I already knew Jerry from a story Michael told the night before.

Michael was searching for an out-of-print book of photos of Rodeo stars from his childhood. He finally found one, but believing the $350 asking price was too high, he didn’t buy it.

Later at Jerry’s house Michel saw the book. He told Jerry what a treasure he had and how he’d been looking for it for years. When Michael returned from his next trip, he found Jerry had left the book at his house as a gift. When Michael explained he couldn’t accept it, Jerry said, “If something happens to me it’ll get sold in a garage sale. If I ever want to look at it I know where it is.”

I explained to the group how Michael and I met and that Michael had been a mentor to me. I remember Michael telling me once whenever I get down to call him because he’d experience it all and would help me through.

Michael said Bronc had been a mentor to him in roping in much the same fashion. Well, maybe not the same fashion.

Once Michael was haunted by missing a calf in a competition. He obsessed about it until he called Bronc. Bronc’s advice to Michael was, “Michael I want you to climb on the roof of your barn, jump off, and kill yourself because none of us ever missed a calf and we don’t want a looser like you in our sport.” Michael said Bronc’s sarcasm made him realize every roper had missed and wallowing in self-pity was not going to help him improve. He needed to forget about it and get back to work just like everyone else.

Though the stories often involved sarcasm and rough treatment, the love and respect these men had for each other came through.

The last story of the morning was about their recently deceased friend, Hollywood. As Hollywood’s time grew short, Michael organized a lunch at his ranch for him, Jerry Vessel, and the rest of Hollywood’s friends. Already confined to a wheelchair, Jerry loaded Hollywood up, wheelchair and all, in the bed of his pick-up. Michael said Hollywood looked like he was riding on a float in a parade as he came down the road.

As they sat down to eat, Hollywood asked Jerry to get him a glass of water. Jerry said, “Get it yourself you lazy SOB.”

Michael added, “The moral of the story is if you want a friend in this group, you’ll want to bring him with you.”

As we laughed I realized nothing could be further from the truth.

Known as the “World’s Cleanest” comedian and speaker, Kent Rader helps people learn and experience how laughter matters in reducing stress. Kent is the winner of the Branson Comedy Festival and co-stars in The Baby Boomer Comedy Show, Clean Comedy For People Born Before Seatbelts. www.kentraderspeaks.com (You may watch Kent’s segment on Comcast’s Who’s Laughing Now below).

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