Be on the lookout for your shadow friends | Nandell Palmer

I define "shadow friends" as people you see regularly, but to whom you’ve not said a word.

Shadow friends make a mark on people. Without them at a luncheon or family reunion, it would not be the same. They carry a presence, giving oomph to the commonplace. Oftentimes, they’re unaware of their influence.

For example, if you were to show up at the bus stop en route to work one morning, and the pony-tailed grandfather with the winning smile was not there, then without looking at your watch, you would know that you are either early or late.

This person that you have been seeing for years, without saying a word, is your shadow friend. And no doubt you are his. His absence creates a void whenever he’s not around — something that you cannot readily put a finger on.

The shadow friends scenario came to mind recently when my wife and I were invited to a backyard barbecue in Federal Way. We met a gentleman five years ago who works in the deli department of a Federal Way supermarket. His personable treatment toward customers has brought him a host of friends over the years, we later found out.

He updated us with myriad stories about his grandmother before her passing at age 101 in Seattle.

When we accepted the invitation to this annual barbecue, we thought that it would be the regular fare: Burgers, hotdogs, burgers, hotdogs and still more burgers.

But when we got there, we were speechless. Seven large grills were fired up, turning out choice cuts of steaks, ribs, buffalo, pork, chicken, salmon and a cornucopia of other mouthwatering goodies.

For us to be feted in such grand style, we felt that indeed we’ve graduated from shadow friends into friend-friends.

Many of the people present there started out as shadow friends just like us.

Some of the babies he played with over the counter with their parents are now in high school and college. They now send him birthday cards yearly from all over the country, and drop in to visit him whenever they’re in town.

When my wife sang with the 350-member Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, it was hard for me at times to look at the expressions on all those faces during performances. I narrowed it down to a few faces I would look at. Over time, I became a big shadow friend to an ebullient soprano named Candy.

Candy, to me, was the essence of the choir. Let it be known that I had no prurient thoughts about this shadow friend relationship.

I told my wife about the joy I had watching Candy sing, her giving the fullest expressions as the consummate chorister. She exuded love, devotion and servanthood whenever she sang.

Just imagine my shock when my wife took my hand like a 3-year-old and led me backstage one Sunday to meet Candy.

My shadow friend must have turned a thousand shades of pink when Yvonne told her about my admiration. That meeting was more than five years after I had tagged her as my shadow friend.

Based on some of the letters I had received from readers, many couples found their spouses starting out as shadow friends.

We don’t always feel the urge to cross over from shadow friends. But sometimes, those seemingly dormant and silent associations can blossom into lifelong friendships.

Shadow friends are everywhere. You’ll find them in your schools, churches, synagogues, gyms and restaurants. They hail from all ethnicities and socio-economic strata.

The distance between a shadow friend and a real friend is sometimes just a hello away.

Be on the lookout for your shadow friends today. I would be delighted to hear about your shadow friends stories.

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