There are special people that happen in our lives that help shape who we ultimately become and what path we will journey upon as we write our life story. Each of these “guideposts” is not always self-evident, and many times we don’t understand their impact or significance until many years later in our own personal stories. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a chance meeting, other times it’s a heady conversation shared with friends. Whatever the circumstances, when that moment of clarity hits you as you finally understand and appreciate what those guidepost friends gave you, it’s very poignant.
I have a friend that I have known for almost all of my 50 years of life. As I write this, he is very ill and nearing the end of his journey. Just typing that leaves me with gigantic lump in my throat. I’ve known it was coming for some time now, and yet I just can’t shake how fast all this has happened and how I wish I had taken the time to communicate with him more. 50 years suddenly feels like nowhere near enough time. Some of the people in his circles knew him for far less time but feel the weight of this event every bit as much as I do. Whether you have known this friend for 50 years or 50 seconds, you just couldn’t help but find him very likable, friendly and that your happiness is important to him. Over the years, I have never run into him when he didn’t have a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye. Have you ever met a person in your lifetime that constantly reminds you that life really is good and that all of our petty daily stresses are really insignificant in the bigger picture? This guy is the genuine article. And it’s not like he ever has to work hard at it. It’s just his nature and it’s thoroughly contagious.
I went to parochial school with this friend. I remember this one time in fourth grade, a bunch of us were having one of those “fate-of-the-world-in-the balance” kickball games during recess in the schoolyard. It might as well have been the Olympics given the way we were so driven to the goal of winning as our competitive spirit was just off the charts. It’s funny how things we count as little now (like a kickball game) were really huge events when we were kids.
The end of recess bell rang and everyone filed into the school for the rest of the school day. Everyone, that is, but our zealous band of aspiring world athletes who just couldn’t let go of the game. Several minutes past the recess bell, dark and ominous clouds formed over the school as several stern-faced nuns began streaming out of the building to tend to the wayward flock. We didn’t have to guess what manner of wrath was about to reign down upon us. We had heard it all before – too many times. As we single-filed our way back into the building, My friend said something along the lines that the nuns might have stopped us for now, but that these times belonged to us and we were going to do big things ahead. I really didn’t think much about that conversation until much later.
Throughout my own journey, there have been both highs and lows. There were many times when I reflected on how I wished to have done this thing or that by a certain age. For some reason, I managed to avoid letting myself get down about it because I remembered that though I might have had a roadblock or two that stopped me in my tracks, these times still belonged to me and there were still big things ahead. I was too young and too naive back in the fourth grade to recognize the impact of what my friend told us in that schoolyard all those years ago. You know, people come into and go out of our respective lives for a purpose and each one has a lesson to give – even when they aren’t aware they are doing it. I could go on for volumes about how this important lesson got me out of some really big jams and got me through to the next mile. Suffice it to say that he made a big impact on me and that I try to pass his life lesson onto my children whenever I can.
A few years ago, I was the General Manager for a very large telecommunications service provider when I ran into this friend again after about 8 years or so. At the time he was working for a company that dealt with warehouse equipment, forklifts, and other tools. He knocked on the door to my office, I looked up and found that so familiar smile and twinkle in the eye. Though we were in our late 40’s at the time, we might as well have been back in the fourth grade in that schoolyard. True to form, I felt re-energized and good about what lay ahead just because of that encounter.
It is such a bitter irony for me to know that my friend – who so embraces life and touches so many with his positive spirit – has been struck with this cruel and aggressive illness. It isn’t at all fair and I could so easily let myself get extremely angry about it. I don’t, though, because the one guy in this world who unknowingly taught me not to sweat set-backs because there were still big things ahead deserves no less from me. How can I not tell him that even though things aren’t going the way he wants them to, these times still belong to him and there are scores of things he hasn’t done yet. He can still have it all. A really great man taught me that lesson, and I’m eternally grateful.
People have asked whether I believe in miracles. In the past I never knew how to answer. Today, as I watch and wait this last chapter of his life journey unfold, I’m conflicted as to whether I’d rather pray for a miracle or pray for release from his pain. As I sit here, I come to the conclusion that maybe I do believe in miracles. I have had the incredible fortune to have encountered a very important guidepost friend who unknowingly taught me a lot about the precious nature of life and the awesome power of hope. I know, in the very pit of my stomach, that had I not had that encounter in the schoolyard all those years ago, I would be a very different person today. My miracle is the priceless gift that he gave to me. I may not ever be able to repay him in kind, but his legacy will continue as I try as best I can to pay it forward to all those traveling with me on this journey. Life is a balance of holding on and letting go so the next big thing can happen.