I once had a friend who I would sit next to on these gray, cement steps of our high school stairwell at the end of the day and we would share stories and chocolate bars from the vending machine around the corner. A friend who I laughed with, often, and created secret handshakes with and rode sleds with down the woodchip path in the forest behind the baseball field in the winter. A friend who wore a faint cluster of freckles across his nose, who wore glasses and hooded sweatshirts. A friend that I spent afternoons with, running the shiny, speckled hallways, leaving rubber residue in our tracks. A friend who joked with me, poked fun at me, who always, always made me smile. A friend who loved his family, who posed awkwardly with me in a group snapshot, all teeth and tangled arms, the night of the prom. A friend whose faded photo from that night still sits wrinkled, but folded in the far back slot of my wallet.
A long time ago on this day, I heard a story. About how after listening to the lyrics of Crowded House’s most popular song, that friend told someone close although he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, he was overcome with sadness at the sound of it. And this stuck with him. The same way those very lines stick with me even now, every time I hear them. Unexpectedly, surprisingly, all at once. Every single time. Like when I’m in the checkout line at CVS or in a bookstore with my daughter or in the car by myself in the middle of a clear, bright day. The song seems to speak of the moment, telling us to embrace life, to hold on tight to even the tiniest shred of hope that there is a better outcome despite all of life’s insurmountable challenges. And there are a lot of them. But there is so much good stuff, too. The lead singer of the band told the magazine, Goldmine, that it was essentially about how he was, “on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on.” I would love to blink back to those gray, cement steps of our high school stairwell and urge my friend on.
As I start this new chapter in my own life today, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize it as one of the most notable dates in my calendar, poignant and heavy and heart-wrenching altogether. I would be remiss if I didn’t think about where he might be in his life at this moment had things been different. And I would be remiss if I didn’t reflect on how that title, those four little words that crept into my head a decade ago and never really found a way out, have changed my perspective. I once had a friend who gave me so much more than he could ever have envisioned. He gave me memories. He continues to give me perspective. And for that I am grateful.