Adding LIFE to your years and years to your life!
Many of you know that I recently spent some time with three friends from my childhood. It was just a short visit, less than 24 hours, but the visit was more significant than I could imagine. One dear friend of mine spoke of it like this;
“…. you were with friends who could celebrate who you are as a person and give you affirmation at a significant transitional time in your life.”
I had been trying to figure out what it was about meeting with these boys after being apart for more than 30 years from two of them and about 18 years from the other. Why was what I walked away with so special? What did it mean? The funny thing is, I think they also may have gotten a piece of what I am trying to explain here. The ties we renewed and the memories we shared were possibly as helpful to them as they were to me.
My dear friends, Tim McGrath, Richard Manos and Greg Gaydos. Tim and Greg lived on the same street that I did and Rich was just one street behind us, but it was as if he were on our street because we all played together as children and hung out together through our middle school years. A common event we shared was that each one of us moved out of Livingston at just about the same time. Not a one of us went on to graduate with our other close friends from the town of Livingston, NJ. We all experienced broken homes and brand new horizons at the age of 15, a very crucial and formative age.
I certainly won’t go into any of the actual happenings of the specific memories we shared before we all moved away from one another….that would make a book! In fact, I only got to share a few hours of such reminiscing while the guys not only stayed up all night talking but after I left on Saturday morning, they stayed on til Monday sharing even more. What I will speak of is what was said to me and how I took it with me as I made my way south to finish the weekend with my daughter and her family in Columbia, TN.
Naturally, they were all super sensitive to the fact that I was recently widowed. They allowed me to speak of my grief openly and were very supportive and compassionate. In fact, that was one of the other very common threads we all shared. Loss of loved ones. Tim’s parents recently passed away, Greg’s parents and his only brother…. and Rich also lost his mother. Who could be more understanding than these guys? Guys I have known and loved since 1969…my kindergarten buddies? When we first saw each other, it was strange….but less than a few minutes into our time around the table and it was as if we never left each other. Time seemed to have stood still. That warm, fuzzy feeling was as welcome as it was surreal.
We spoke of the dreams and the plans we all had back when we were young. Greg and I used to camp out under my mother’s end table in the corner of the living room and make plans to marry and run away to Montana! We used to play our imaginary games down in the basement of his house and they always involved rugged outdoors adventures. So many memories….so long ago. We actually, all four of us, along with other friends from Livingston, spent countless hours in the woods around town…in tree forts and back in hidden areas where we would just hang out and smoke cigarettes…among other things!
As the memories were mentioned and the laughter was shared, it was Greg who kept repeating something that stuck with me….kind of like a knife in the heart as well as a loving, friendly hug. (Not to take away anything from my relationships with Tim and Rich, but it is no secret how very close Greg and I were as we moved on to Florida together, went to school together, quit school together, took our GED test together. We even worked at Taco Viva together…bet you forgot that too, Greg!! We also went through a very tragic accident together that left Greg hospitalized and fighting for his life.) Greg has a way about him when he speaks. When he asks a question, he expects an answer. If he asks, he wants to know. It’s not what he says so much as the way he says it and the tone he uses. I think it may have been the Bob Gaydos voice I was hearing from long, long ago. The authoritative tone…I don’t know…there was just something about the way he spoke to me. He kept repeating this statement over and over and over again.
“HONEY!!! I’m so HAPPY for you…you found your SOUL mate and you had a happy LIFE…you went to MONTANA [substitute Colorado here] and you LIVED in the MOUNTAINS and did what WE wanted to do….I’m so HAPPY for you!!!”
These words were both comforting and stinging at the same time. In one respect, I was reminded of what I no longer had. Chuck was gone. It was over. But in another sense, the emphasis he was using was leaning way over to the bright and happy side, the side that people stuck in grief can have a difficult time occupying. It’s like his words kept pulling me over to the sunny side. It was what he said, yes, but the way he said it and the repetition he used. It was almost confusing at the time. I could not understand why he said it so many times. Maybe I’m just hard-headed, but the spirit in me was being addressed and these words were going to get through. I’m not even sure Greg knew what he was doing.
By the time I was getting ready to leave Tim’s place on Saturday morning, I must have heard Greg tell me this more than a dozen times. As I sat down in front of him to have our last words….he said it again. I was near tears as in my broken yet happy heart, I contemplated the meaning of why God sent me to middle Tennessee to meet my earliest and dearest friend of my entire lifetime to come face to face with these words: “YOU FOUND YOUR SOUL MATE AND LIVED OUT OUR DREAMS…YOU HAD A GREAT LIFE WITH CHUCK”
Even as I left there, after very emotional and tearful hugs with everyone, I drove on down the road like a zombie…just staring straight ahead. I didn’t know what to think. I had no answers. My feelings were mixed. There was numbness, there was sadness. There was joy. There was gratitude. The week before I arrived for this reunion, I had been struggling with my grief. Struggling with memories of Chuck and wallowing in what was lost. Try as I might, it just seemed to be so up front, so in my face. But the time I spent with my friends, the words that came from Greg and the way they were spoken to me along with talking it all out with my daughter Natasia during our quiet times over the next two mornings we shared at her place somehow effected a change in me. I can’t explain it. I don’t understand it. But somehow…I turned a corner and made a huge stride forward. Call it what you will…put a label on it, identify it, give me your rendition. It was a mystery, a working of the deepest most inner force that we all have different labels for. My label involves the working of Christ in me.
I had my doubts about hopping in my van, abandoning my 5 girls to spend the night with three male friends!! A few of my children had their doubts as well! But there was a force driving me to make this meeting. I did not know why and I could not come up with any answers. I even had a doubt or two when I walked in the door….but as we all stood there together in the living room, just gazing at one another in disbelief….it immediately felt right to be together. We simply began to share our lives with one another and listen to each other with depth and caring and concern. We ALL needed that at this critical time in our lives. I only hope the guys got as much out of it as I did.
Dedicated to you boys….forever in my heart.