Monday, October 14, 2013

Trying to get life right

I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes it seems like a lot of precious time passes quickly between the years and the place that we once knew as “the long ago” can instantly feel brand new. Losing a close friend is heartbreaking. My parents are 82 and I’ve watched their circle of friends get smaller over the past several years. It’s now so small that it isn’t a circle anymore; just a few people who make a short line and all you can see is the aging on their bodies and the pain in their eyes as they continue to say goodbye to their friends one by one. But behind their eyes is also camera with a finite amount of film which stores the memories of a life well lived with friends and family well loved. My parent’s camera is still taking pictures and still brings smiles to their faces and joy into their hearts. But on days like today it is hard to remember that.

Each day I thank God for the people I have in my life, but far too often I fail at divulging that information. There’s only 365 days in a year, but when you string a few together, one or two, or twenty, the space between them expands at an astounding rate until one day we wake up and wonder where they went. It’s something we all share and nobody is immune. Losing friends and family is a fact of life and I am always sad when someone I know passes away, but there’s a different kind of sadness when it is someone in my generation, someone who has not yet gotten old by traditional standards. But sometimes there are those who disappear from your life by not knowing how to let go of a grudge or by falling out of love with you. And they hurt just as much; trust me on this one.

Earlier this morning I reached into the big box where I have hundreds of photos and so many memories from the years came flooding back. There were faces I still knew, many I miss, some I recognized but can no longer recall the name attached to it but some are still as recognizable as they day I met them.

Even my dogs know something does not feel right. Today they slept in, which never happens. They won’t eat and three hours ago they should have been in my office, nudging me with their nose doing their happy dance as I put on my shoes preparing to take them for their morning walk. Greyhounds are dogs of speed, majesty, beauty, habit and routine and, as evidenced today, they are also creatures of empathy.

Keith was only 47 when he died. He called me this past Wednesday and we made plans to have lunch together on Friday, which we did. We talked about our ex-wives and politics (but did not dwell on either very long) We talked about drumming, campers, his new red truck, the cabin up in the UP, his girlfriend Christy, his relationship with God, his new drums, his beautiful son Aaron, his parents and my new book, where only moments before I had written the words “To Keith, with love and respect.” I meant it.

In the middle of the conversation he put down his fork and told me how sorry he was for the voids, disappearing acts, unreturned phone calls and time we’ve missed being an active part of each other’s lives. I tried to stop him and said “If you need to say that for your sake that’s fine, but you don’t need to say it for mine.” He knew I was telling the truth.

When he was done I put my fork down, looked him in the eye and said “Look, I love you brother, I’m always going to love you and if I don’t see you for another month, year or ten years, it’s ok because I know that our bond is constant. It will always remain and our friendship is always going to pick up right where it left off with no hard feelings and no games, only the truth. It’s what friends do. It is what friendship is. Everyone is a fuck up in life with something and the past doesn’t matter. “

He thanked me and I know he understood.

Keith’s parents gave me their approval to let people know about his passing here on facebook last evening, probably because they understood that everyone who knew him, or remembered him or loved him needed a prayer or a hug or something right now to wrap around this huge, warm blooded void.

Last night when I got home I had the painful task of calling a mutual friend Keith and I have; a woman named Joanne. Keith and I and our friend Carol have always called her our second mother, or “Mom Mitchell.” Keith and I became inseparable when her son Scott died 27 years ago. It was a different world back then, a different era, a different time with no Youtube, cell phones or 24-hour news but it was still a time when 19 year old boys were not supposed to tragically die in automobile accidents like our mutual best friend Scott did in May of 1985.

Scott’s death one year out of high school affected the whole student body at Dondero in Royal Oak. It brought Keith and I closer. It brought our circle of friends closer as we cried and grieved together and tried to make sense of why a 19 year old kid was behind the wheel of a car and was tragically killed the way Scott was. It broke his mother Joanne’s heart and his brother, Lee’s heart; permanently altering their lives only a year or two after Lee lost his father and Joanne had lost her husband.

After a while the mass of friends brought together by this loss became a smaller group as people went their separate ways. More time passed and the “group of many” became a handful. Then the “handful” became a few until the few only remained connected through facebook or life events, like weddings, births and funerals. And now here I am, with a huge void, a regret-filled ache, a big black hole in my heart which at the moment does nothing except illuminate what a flicker our existence is.

When Keith and I caught up with each other on Friday something happened exactly like I said it would. The friendship picked up exactly where it left off, so did the love. There were smiles and laughter, but today Keith’s loss is a pain I share with many of you and I thank everyone for their comments and private messages. There is a different pain I now share with his brother and sister and girlfriend, but also one I will be permanently unable to share or understand as it occupies his son’s heart and his parent’s hearts.

Yet at this same time, a few hours ago I also felt some of the pain lifting as I watch my neighbor and her young boy walk by my house on their way to the neighborhood church, where God can be found bringing peace and happiness and joy and where our loving God also weeps for this loss yet radiates an unexplainable comfort and a perpetual promise--- and does so without question; generously and freely because of a Savior who already paid the debt. Today I am given a new day to wake and try to make things right again in my world and I pray I won’t fail.

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