“A dream left unexamined is like a letter from God left unopened.” – – Alfred Adler
A few days ago I posted the following quote on Facebook: “Until we have seen someone else’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven another’s darkness we don’t really know what love is.” Having lived a rather sheltered emotional life, there are few I’ve let get close enough to experience both poles with me, and thus few I’ve reciprocated with. My late friend Paul was one. In the late 1960’s my family moved in the West End of St. Paul. We were the first Hispanic family in the neighborhood, and the neighbors kids reminded us of our ethnicity in the most unflattering ways they could dream up. Anyone who thought civil rights had won out and equality was the order of the day either was caucausian or never visited my area when things heated up.
Across the alley from our home lived a family totally oblivious to any ethnic differences. Paul was the youngest in their family at age three, and with me at age five, we struck up an instant friendship that would last his remaining 21 years. Long before bullying made the headlines it does nowdays, I took it upon myself to become Paul’s more dominant half. No matter what deed I perpetrated on him (boy, I could be a little creep . . . ), Paul would come back the next day as though nothing had happened. Not that my nasty behavior was constant: we had plenty of memorable times together. Those days as a kid when you get so into your play that you literally lose track of time? We had lots of those. The one disconcerting memory I had of our youth was that Paul and I always seemed to end up on the same little league team. I was a pitcher and Paul a second baseman. A second baseman who usually botched my perfect game by fumbling a grounder hit right to him.
As high school called for me, we went our separate ways for a while, occasionally running into each other, engaging in whatever activities for a few days and then separating again. It wasn’t until Paul graduated from college that we took up again on a more “permanent” basis. We ran into each other in a liquor store and we were off to the races. Our most frequent activity was retiring to the basement of Paul’s parents to drink beer and play our guitars into the wee hours. Paul’s sister Mary often joined us, and it wasn’t unusual for me to head across the alley to my own home at around six a.m.
After one of our early morning escapades, Paul apparently slept a few hours and then headed out for an outdoor music fesitval. With temperatures in the mid-nineties, and Paul severely dehydrated, he died that day. Heart failure at age 24. In addition to just plain feeling enormous grief, the guilt I felt was huge, and lasted what felt like an eternity. I had kept my friend out all night and caused his death. Despite repeated reassurances from others, it was years before this dissipated. Regardless, my friend was gone.
It was about ten years later while I was going through the residual grief of a relationship breakup that I had a dream that I was playing in a baseball game. I was playing right field. A batter lined a ball out to me and I attempted to throw the runner out at first, a rather unsusual maneuver in a ballgame. I let fly with my best throw toward first base and as I released the ball my heart sank: Paul was playing first base. Paul who had trouble fielding a ten-hop grounder. As the runner bore down on the bag, Paul reached out for my throw. The ball hit his glove, and of course, he dropped it. As the runner continued to steam toward the base, Paul casually reached down, picked up the ball with his bare hand, and just as casually, without ever looking at the runner, tapped his back foot on first base. Runner out. The whole time Paul wore his usual big smile. As the umpire gave the out signal, Paul looked out at me in right field, wiggled the ball in his bare hand and shouted, “See? It’s ok to miss an opportunity.”
I kept in touch with Paul’s sister Mary for quite a few years, and she became a regular at my music shows. I believe it was in 2006 that I told of yet another dream I had about Paul about six months prior to my show. This one was brief: Paul and his dad were walking down a flight of stairs. The only other real memorable feature of the dream was that there was a blinding white light at the top of the staircase. As I recited the dream to Mary she began to cry softly. She then explained to me that her father had “died on the table” about six months earlier and been brought back to life. He was doing just fine at the time.
The number of years since I’ve seen Paul now surpasses the number of years he was alive. In a body, anyway. I’ve not had a friendship so rich and full since then, but then what can rival a friendship that begins at the ages of three and five? Still, I have hope. I have friendships in the making with people who have sampled my less than savory idiosyncracies, and they still remain. I’m sure I’ve been forgiven more than once. With Paul I had the privilege of being able to convey without words how much he meant to me on an almost daily basis during the time we spent together. There are those of you out there who I hope I do the same with. You know who you are. Sometimes it’s the fear of letting myself be vulnerable, sometimes its shyness, sometimes its just plain fear: these are the things I let prevent me from telling you how much you mean to me. I’m promising myself to do better. In the meantime I’m hoping that I convey to you during each of our meetings what a beautiful world you make it for me. Sometimes its just the sound of your voice, sometimes the sight of you, sometimes even just a Facebook picture of you that reminds me how bIessed I am. If a friendship the depth of the one I had with Paul is the end result, a few moments of vulnerability is a ridiculously small price to pay. I’m all in. I’ve experienced proof that friendships can indeed last a lifetime. Sometimes longer.
A friend of mine today expressed to me that she misses a mutual acquaintance of ours. The acquaintance is someone who was reaching out to me to talk several months ago. I’m not sure what the topic of discussion was to be, but it seemed quite important. Through several episodes of scheduling difficulty, it never happened, and the person has since been away for an extended period of time. I’ve regretted it ever since. One of the credos of the world I live in is “whenver anyone, anywhere, reaches out, . . . for that I am responsible.” I’m very much hoping that Paul is right again. I’m hoping that all that was lost was an opportunity.