“You’re no better than the company you keep.”
My grandfather used to tell that to my father, and my father occasionally passed along that wisdom to me and my siblings.
As an adult, I’ve wondered whether those words are meant mostly for kids, to keep them away from bad influences in their formative years.
But certainly grown-ups need to be surrounded by good people, too. We need friends who are better than us to help us to continue to mature and grow.
Personally, I can think of several times when others made me a better person because of their influence.
In college, I was randomly assigned a multi-talented roommate. As a sophomore, she was advanced enough to be a teaching assistant in chemistry, her major. She also played the piano and minored in music. On a lark, she tried out for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln speech team, earned a spot at nationals, and was writing speeches for the governor the following summer. Also during summer break, she spent time in Spain, becoming fluent in Spanish.
My roommate’s talent didn’t rub off on me, but she motivated me. She was upbeat and happy, and I had my best grades when I roomed with her.
I never set out to surround myself with people of strong faith, but God seems to have taken care of that for me. He knows my needs – and weaknesses – and has given me good examples to follow, especially here at St. Columbkille, in priests and parishioners that I would call “scary holy,” with an astounding presence of God in them.
Sometimes those influences, those friends, come and go in our lives. We wish we could hang on to them because they showed us how to live and helped us grow, but we have to trust in God’s providence. He has greater plans for us and them.
One friend, the late Susan Koeppe, taught me the value of words. She chose hers carefully. She often paused before she spoke, and I could sense that she was looking for just the right words – the kindest, most effective way to get her point across.
When she was dying and after her death, I learned so much about Susan. I realized I never really knew her. I didn’t know her favorite color was green. It was apparent she was smart, but I never knew she graduated from college with distinction from college or received a Fulbright scholarship for a year of study in New Zealand.
Susan and I occasionally shared long conversations, and I relied on her advice, especially in spiritual matters – but she rarely talked about herself.
I would do well to follow her example.
And I can still turn to her for help.
God has placed many good people in my life, including His multitude of saints in heaven.
Thank You, Lord, for the “cloud of witnesses” you give us in heaven and on earth. May we learn from them, the company you would have us keep.
Inspired by the Year of Faith, Susan Szalewski began writing weekly columns for us. Although that year is over, we liked them so well that we asked her to keep writing. Thankfully, she said yes. So watch for these on Thursdays and see the Year of Faith Blog here.