Wednesday, May 20, 2015


I discovered last week that a high school friend died abruptly. He was 31, I think. Honestly, I hadn’t spoken with Jim in over a decade; just before or after college graduation. Yet I followed his life’s progress on Facebook. He’d moved to upstate New York, became a chef, and bragged about the clever risotto dishes he concocted. More than once, I’ve daydreamed about showing up in his cafĂ© without prior announcement.

But that won’t happen now, and I’ve cried more about his passing than I would’ve anticipated. The thing is, I had some good reasons for growing apart from Jim. For starters, he was younger, so I was in college before he’d graduated. That created distance, though we did see each other on school breaks when I came home. He attempted college initially. But it didn’t seem to stick. Anger, rebellion and drugs were more his style. I shared some of that during high school, but as college progressed, my priorities changed, my outlook improved.

Nevertheless, I still cherished memories of his gifted guitar playing and soulful voice, of us singing together. We grew close in our school’s select choir. Neither of us felt we “fit” the school’s dominate expectations. But outcast instincts weren’t all we shared. We loved music and its transportational possibilities. He was the much better musician! With several other friends, we’d frequent the same coffee shop or billiard hall, and sing or listen to music, or otherwise be together. For some, that’s nothing special. They’ve always had many close friends, felt part of “a group.” I never did. Still don’t. Except those few years with Jim (and Ryan and Kyle and Brian).

I’ll admit that behind my tears last week were regrets not only that Jim died, but that I’d lost that sense of belonging so many years ago. I didn’t plan for us losing touch. I didn’t welcome it. Nor did I work hard to stop it. And I think it was, in general, an okay development. Phone calls grew more infrequent as Jim and others got jobs while I changed majors. Ryan started traveling. People found girlfriends or new friends and I worked toward seminary. A wedding occurred that I missed and then it felt like I couldn’t go back. Like I couldn’t restart a past that was past. And that’s right. None of us can, not really. Still, I’m sad I couldn’t find some new way to include these now-men in my life who, for a time, mattered as much to me as any.

Thus, I cried for Jim and- forgive me!- for me too. And that I’ll never tell him I’m so glad his risotto blend is creative and healthy, and that his life is too. He seemed to overcome the drugs, and his Facebook photos at least showed a smile that looked earned and true. People sometimes say, “Live life without regrets.” I think that’s wrong. Some regrets, of course, are fools’ prisons, us being shackled by events we can’t change, and need to get over. But other regrets connect us to what matters, what would be a shame to forget. For instance, I’ve never been very good at being a friend, at remaining close to people, and much of my regret revolves around that. Moments like these, however, remind me that I needn’t accept that fact as fully defining. i.e., I’ve done it before.

Besides, long ago I accepted that my ultimate belonging is in God’s forever family. These regrets, therefore, serve as occasional prodding to build on that firm foundation and share my vulnerabilities, my mundane joys more readily. That’s quite hard for me, but one who’s greater than me holds me forever. And that’s sufficient. Besides, Jim helped teach me my foibles were beautiful too.

Ryan- who I think remained close to Jim- sent me his phone number last Sunday. I hope by the time y’all read this I’ve found the nerve to call him. And in honor of a dear, sometimes disturbed, always beloved of God young man- too soon gone- I’m making risotto for my family soon. My blend isn’t super creative, nor perfect. But I’m proud to share it.

Grace and Peace,
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