Old Friends

Circa 1993. Just a few of the boys from the old days and the present.

Circa 1993. Just a few of the boys from the old days and the present.

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

Papaw moved our family to Hendersonville in 1985 after retiring from his career in the Army. I was in 5th grade.

Because we moved in the middle of the school year, I still remember standing in front of my 5th grade class in January introducing myself. I don’t know why I remember, but I was wearing corduroy pants. My voice was the deepest in the school, so people still talk about how shocking it was when “the new kid” spoke:

“Hi, my name is Chad. I just moved here from Florida. I’m from Tennessee, but I’ve lived in a lot of places since I was born.”

Moving was old hat to me, so I made friends quickly. You learn to adapt as a military brat. There is no other choice.

My 6th grade class.

My 6th grade class.

This weekend was my 20th high school reunion. I went to Hendersonville and visited with many of those same kids I befriended in the 5th grade at Indian Lake Elementary. It may seem strange, but I still see most of them regularly.

These are the kids of field day, summers at the pool, forts in the woods, sleep overs, swims across the lake, boats made of styrofoam blocks,  football games, wrestling tournaments, late night walks, conversations about growing up, truths, dares, first cars, graduations. 

Michael and Jim Bob - Gatlinburg Superheroes in 1993

Michael and Jim Bob – Gatlinburg Superheroes in 1993

The night before the reunion we congregated at a friends house for our annual Halloween party. As the night wore on into the morning hours my thoughts began to drift back across the 20 years since high school and further back through those years, junior high, and finally to that day I introduced myself to that 5th grade class. Many of those same faces who stared at the “new kid” are still in my life.

I don’t discount how unique that is. And how lucky I am to have friendships that have endured.

But I also wonder how often I’ve been a good friend through these adult years of our lives.

It’s easy to get self absorbed in the problems in your own life: sick kids, financial struggles, career changes. I know I’ve thought over the years that I must be the only one who has struggled since becoming an adult.

In hindsight though there were conversations I had over the years, and subtle hints, that my lifelong friends may have been struggling too. I wonder if I noticed. Or if I was too focused on my own life to care.

I had a conversation with another old friend from those early years last night. We talked about distance and time and how it threatens to isolate us in a place where we feel alone in our challenges.

I want to be better at caring. I guess that means I want to be better at both listening – actually hearing, and then being present in the lives of others.

In your 20’s you’re still growing up. In your 30’s you’re busy trying to “get ahead” – even when you’re struggling the most with real adult problems. As I close in on 40 I think I’m realizing that I want to and need to focus more on others.

Growing up is hard. But it’s also beautiful when you surround yourself with people to lean on. And even more fulfilling when you’re able to be there in someone else’s life when they need you.

Being connected with the past matters. I am who am because the wise choices I made in friends.

Choosing your friends wisely is important. Staying connected to them is hard.

But it’s worth the effort.

Saturday morning I woke up in my childhood bed. I ate homemade waffles and sausage with Nana and Papaw. And I went with a few other old friends to visit another friend in the hospital.

I hope he knows he’s not alone. That none of us are. Count your friends as blessings. Tell them they matter and that you’re happy to be in their life.

I love you,

– Daddy

ps. Sometimes I get nice emails about my letters to you. Recently a man I don’t know emailed me; he asked if I would be willing to consider sharing his families story with my readers. I’m happy to do that. His wife Heather is a mesothelioma survivor. Take a moment to watch their inspiring story here: www.mesothelioma.com/heather

TRAINING: offseason

Sat: None

Sun: Rode 20 miles

Mon: Ran 4 miles / Played basketball

Tues: Ran 3 miles