It helps to have bad friends. Well, it helped me.
I was reminded of this after reading a quote from Russian author and researcher Ivan Panin.
“Three men are my friends: He that loves me, he that hates me, he that is indifferent to me. Who loves me, teaches me tenderness. Who hates me, teaches me caution. Who is indifferent to me, teaches me self-reliance.”
Panin reminds us of the different kinds of friends or acquaintances who are part of our life. And how they teach us about ourselves.
I learned this in sixth grade. We lived in a mobile home park in Sandwich. My closest friend lived a few miles away. He had an older brother and a much younger sister.
We got along, but we did bad things together. Things that were not my idea. Nothing major, but clearly wrong.
We were making lousy choices like young boys do. But I knew I was doing wrong. I’m not sure he cared.
It began the day we were downtown in a store and my friend shoved something in his pocket. He urged me to steal something also. So I did – the smallest toy I could find.
We did not get caught. I soon threw my toy away so my parents would never see it. But at another store I grabbed bubblegum off the counter. That’s about it. Shoplifting.
Perhaps it was part of growing up. But then there was that day we were messing around on our “playground” – an old blacktop road that ran along the edge of the mobile home park. Cars seldom used the road that ran along the railroad tracks – another playground. We messed with our bikes on the road, had foot races, stuff like that.
One sunny, summer day my friend was there with his older brother who was babysitting their sister. All of us were sitting on a concrete abutment, part of little bridge over a drainage creek – another playground. We were waiting for a car to go by that was moving slowly, probably because of us.
As the car got closer the older brother said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she ran out in front of that car?” He was talking about his little sister sitting next to him.
And then she did. And the car hit her.
I remember that shocking moment. What I don’t recall is what followed. I know the car was going slow and slammed to a stop. The girl was hurt but not seriously.
It was not funny and it felt wrong being part of that, just being there, being with them.
When seventh grade rolled around we had moved. New town. New neighborhood. New friends. My life of crime ended.
It would be too easy to say my friend took me down the wrong path. But my life was much different, much better, when I moved from that environment. Taking with me a few lessons.
Yes, peer pressure exists, but I made my own choices. And ... I was lucky to know him.
Call him a bad influence if you want, but he taught me a lot about friends – and myself … my weaknesses.
And how easy it is to become different people – depending on who we are with at the time.
• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.