Greg. Jim. Monty. Kevin. Mark. Rich. These names sketch out my life, some since childhood. Together, they could tell you more about me than both my brothers could. They are my best friends. They are the pals who know my mood swings and my family history. They’ve watched me soar and seen me fail. Unlike friends of the road, these guys have stayed with me beyond trail’s end. No matter how many months or miles intervene, the friendships endure. Our cumulative years of shared biography preserve our connection, propelling us together on the same path. After years of tireless talks we now speak in shorthand.

None of these friends lives near me now, but we rendezvous at weddings and while passing through each other’s towns on business. We plan reunions on occasion and a few of us have recently shared vacations. Sporadic phone calls bridge the connection between long lapses, as well as e-mail and a few cards or letters here and there. We don’t keep up on daily details, but these friends know my headlines and I know theirs. We count on each other and we share an irresistible impulse to keep going, together.

There’s nothing like a friend of the heart, long-lasting pals who know us sometimes better than we know ourselves. They bring such comfort to our lives. It’s nearly inexpressible. Dinah Mulock, however, describes it pretty well: "Oh the comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are-chaff and grain together-certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."

Of course, we don’t usually determine that a specific relationship will outlast the road. Some do, some don’t. That’s all, right? Not hardly. In olden days, friends vowed to be friends forever, no matter what. Maybe you remember the biblical story of Jonathan and David, and how they took an oath to be friends forever. "Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him . . . ." From then on, when times turned treacherous and their relationship was tested in blood, they banked on one another.

Maybe it would help contemporary friendships stay together if we swore an oath at the beginning, but that’s not how most of us become friends. We are more likely to stumble into it by accident. We meet, look each other over, discover that we talk the same language, that we have common interests, and then . . . fate takes over? Not if we genuinely care about the relationship. If we care, we commit. We don’t arrange a ceremony or make solemn vows. Most likely, the commitment gradually grows. We commit ourselves to each other, sometimes without even knowing it, in snippets over the long haul, until we find ourselves as committed friends. Looking back, we see we’ve made a thousand commitments, little ones, again and again, as we had occasion to make them. We never spoke a vow. We just grew into our commitment without thinking much about it. That’s the story of friendships of the heart.

With most friendships, new concerns and new faces gradually crowd out the old as we start a new journey. But not with committed friends. They don’t flicker and fade; they keep the light on. They are there for the duration and are as elemental to our being as blood to our heart.