And there needed to be. A couple of recent events have forced some introspection. Options open and close, and chances are made available and lost all the time. The changing dynamic is relentless, but often consists of long periods of stability punctuated by instantaneous alterations. When something changes today, it might throw the events, emotions, and perceptions of a thousand yesterdays ago into stark relief, or obscure them, or change their relationships to one another. That timeline, that assumed-solid foundation that we build our personal history and personal identity on, can be changed in a moment, and our stories we tell ourselves about who we are change with it.
Someone who was once a great friend to me passed away last weekend. He was my age, a classmate through junior high and high school, a confidante, a competitor, and a role model for much of that time. I'd be lying if I said that we stayed great friends, or that we stayed in touch, or that there wasn't a time that there was a deep rift between us, of my own creation. With his passing, the timeline looking back is altered. I don't remember that rift as well now, except to regret it deeply and to be glad that there was at least one time that I took the opportunity to try to patch it. It's not important anymore. This is what is important, what I do remember, in vivid detail:
-Chuck making fast friends on my first or second day of junior high, me the overly-shy kid from the little school in Monkton and him the savvy Bristolite who already knew the big building like the back of his hand, knew the town, knew the other kids from Bristol and helped me get to know them.
-Chuck's neon pink and black Cannondale, his mountain bike, and the bike I begged to get from my parents so we could ride together. Chuck's dream of turning the upstairs of his parents' garage into a bike shop, complete with a crane to get our projects on to that upper level.
-Running for Class President with Chuck running for Student Body President at the same time, using our best copier art skills to make our campaign posters, and handing out candy to our electorate.
-Chuck always just squeezing me out in the GPA competition, highest honors for him every quarter, high honors for me.
-The day our best runner was sick, that I won the only running race I've ever won in my life, and how Chuck was the only one there on the final stretch, jumping up and down and screaming his head off for me to win at the finish, yelling "you did it, you did it!" at the top of his lungs.
-Watching Chuck take the lead in so many school theater productions, and marveling at his singing and acting abilities, knowing that he had something special and that I could never do anything like that. Being in awe.
-Chasing Chuck all the way down 116 back to Bristol on our mountain bikes after a day and night of riding and camping out with our friend Ian in the woods of Starksboro.
There's plenty more, and it's been like a flood since I heard the news. The last time I saw Chuck was just after Christmas, 1999, and we were both at a sledding party up on Lincoln Gap. I remember us both pausing on our sleds at the top of the run, I remember introducing Kate, a Colgate grad, my girlfriend (and now my wife) to him, and I remember us taking off into the starry hardwoods back to the bonfire below. It's as good of a way as any to remember somebody.
Chuck and I took different paths. Upon my return to Vermont last year, I didn't know he was back, too, or that he was chairing the Bristol Conservation Commission, or that he was doing well and happy. I'm glad to know those things now, but I wish I could have seen him in that place, coerced him to drag that bike out one more time, or reminisced over the folly and high drama of the latter half of our teenage years. I wish I could have thanked him for the odd ounce of his generosity and gregarious nature that rubbed off on me, back when I was a shy kid who couldn't look anybody in the eye when I talked to them. Those ounces have been worth more than their weight in anything.
My path has often been one of self-imposed isolation. I don't call people, I don't call them back, I don't reach out very often. I don't often think about all of the people in my life and all of the blessings they have afforded me. I should do all of those things more. Slogging through the day before yesterday, through yesterday, slogging home on the bike to the base of my own personal "mystery spot," those words kept booming in my head.
But as I spun up that little incline, there were no words to go with what I was thinking anymore, only a feeling of clarity, and this is what it felt like:
You never know when some event in the present will take everything in the past and turn it on its ear. You'll never know when the last chance is until you've already passed it by. Things that are dramatic today, that are untenable or insurmountable, may look smaller in the rear-view, they may disappear behind other, greater things, or you might even just forget. Remember everybody you've ever loved and everybody who's ever loved you. That stuff, it's energy, it still exists somewhere. Love is there, and it is real, even if it might not exist in the present, even if it might not exist in the future, it still exists. Reach out, sing loud, laugh long. Tell somebody.
To anybody reading this who's ever been a part of my life, even if we haven't talked in a long time, even if we haven't seen each other in years, even if something feels untenable or insurmountable, I want to leave you with something I learned from another friend, Chris, who always signs his emails this way and who always makes me feel it when he does: