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Nichols: Circle of friends makes life worthwhile
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Some time ago, a person I knew very well compared me with a rich man in town. "For the rest of your life, you will never have as much money as he has now."

I was just a college teacher with a modest income, so I accepted that comparison as valid. I never did accumulate as much money as he did before his recent departure from life, but I have more treasure than he had because I am enriched by the many people who form circles of love in my life.

Twenty one members of my immediate family attended my 80th birthday bash. They ranged from a 1-year-old great grandson who crawled without stopping the entire time he was awake, to my sister's mother-in-law from Florida, aged 94 dignified years.

For the first time in more than 20 years, all six of my children - two girls, two boys, and then two last girls - were together in my house. Four of these are in their 50s. The younger two are in their 40s. How did I ever get through parenthood and produce such a loving and thoughtful brood?

In addition to my original six, joining us were two husbands, two wives, six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, my sister, her husband and his mother. I am proud to have my family as my first circle of love and support.

Also present at that birthday bash were friends from the Lake Country Shakers, a Parkinson's disease support group. It was formed in 1995 at St. Paul's United Methodist Church by Marie and Bob Bridges and Louell and Ray Roper. Today, we have nearly 50 members, and about 20 of these came to help me create a birthday memory that I will always treasure.

The Shakers do in fact shake, and all have a variety of medications that must be taken throughout the day. But we like to travel as a group, and 11 of us had just returned earlier in the week from a four-day tour of historic Charleston, S.C. They are a fun group whether on my deck on that beautiful fall Sunday afternoon, or scrambling to get out of the rain and getting drenched in Charleston. We laughed because most of us had forgotten what rain looked like.

At the First Presbyterian Church, I have two more circles of friends. First is the cancer support group, led by Dr. Jack Griffith, who is a cancer survivor himself and has great personal charm. I cherish our monthly sessions though I am having no treatment or any medication for my slow growing cancer. However my oncologist monitors me carefully. I go to the meetings to listen and learn from the others who have fought cancer in the past or are being treated now.

The second group at First Pres is Sam Harbin's adult Sunday school class. We have about 40 members; every one of whom has a different point of view. And we exchange ideas that would surprise traditional minded persons. Adult give-and-take is exciting, and I usually leave that class with a smile on my face.

I have played my saxophone since the eighth grade. So when I discovered the Believers Band at First United Methodist Church, I joined. Now I play in the small ensemble and the jazz band, if my health permits.

Like most people with Parkinson's, I have good days and bad. I usually live a normal life on the good days, but retreat into the shadows on the bad days. Richard Petty is the outstanding conductor and teacher of all members, both beginners and experienced musicians.

Several years ago, I was invited to speak to the Lions Club of Gainesville. My reception was so warm and friendly that I decided to join. We worked very hard last year and raised more than $20,000 for charities such as helping needy blind people, diabetic kids and people with difficulty securing hearing aids.

Recently, I helped sell our Lions sell brooms at the Mule Camp fair. All members of the Lion's Club look up to our president, Rob Andrews. We have to - he is taller than most of us. Rob is a gentle giant who is doing a very effective job as club president.

Another real treasure I have found here is the Lifetime and Leisure program called BULLI at Brenau University. I have taught several classes and will teach another next term. And I have been on BULLI tours to China, Spain, Greece and down the Danube River.

BULLI's success stems from its exceptionally gifted director, Kathy Amos. She is the friend of all who like to learn and have fun at the same time.

My wonderful neighbors in Sunset Heights, my main physician Dr. Sean Sumner, my editor at The Times, and those who guard my life at Brenau's pool, all make living here a true pleasure for me.

I thank God that I am so very rich with circles of people whom I love.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly and on gainesville