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Thursday, November 04, 2010


November 3, 2010


Rachel Olsen

"As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)


"The gift enclosed was a new watch. A climbing watch made by Suunto. Called the Core."

As my eyes scanned these sentences on page 313 of The Mountain Between Us, I forgot momentarily about the novel's characters. Instead I pictured the watch the author had given my husband years ago.

A Timex Ironman with more buttons and functions than I'd know what to do with.

Rick and I met Charles at graduate school. The two men bonded over darts, basketball, Jesus, discussions of Walker Percy, hunting, music and Dr. Brown's doctoral communication theory lectures.

I'd often find the two of them in the computer lab engrossed in conversation. Or else, laughing so hard sound ceased to emanate from their gaping mouths. Rick's computer screen always contained academic-speak and research terms. Charles', more often than not, would reveal short stories he was composing. I still remember the first one I read. A piece about his sister Annie called Humble Pie...

The timepiece was accompanied by a letter. In a poetic way only a budding novelist could pen, Charles detailed all the characteristics about Rick that inspired him. All the challenges they faced and overcame together. And how much he valued Rick's friendship. He included the verse, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17, NIV).

Charles explained he'd given the same watch to a select few men in his life that had also been a significant source of inspiration. "Iron men" he called them. Men who had sharpened him. Charles described them in the letter too - each one impressive in their own right. Rick wasn't so sure he was worthy of the comparison. Of course, it wasn't really a comparison - it was a celebration. A symbolic token of friendship and appreciation.

Rick wore that watch until the battery died. Then he replaced the battery. He wore it until the band broke, then he put a new band on it. After all, it's not every day someone tells you you're an Iron Man. But each day Rick looked at that watch, Charles did.

Our time at graduate school came to a close causing the men to go their separate ways. Rick to Wilmington to teach college, Charles to Jacksonville to eventually publish stories. Moving stories. Stories where broken people heal and find hope. Stories that show the reader what love looks like.

In an interview Charles said a driving force in his novels is writing a story that answers the question, "What does it look like to really love somebody?" The characters' lives in Charles' books answer that question. So does the novelist's own life.

I asked Rick this week, "What do you think are Charles' strengths as a friend?" Rick paused for split-second and then said, "He is honest about his stuff and requires that you be honest about yours too." Then he added, "And he knows how to love."

Sounds like that sharpening thing goes both ways.

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