Today marks the birthday for two of my Facebook friends. For one, our paths first crossed in kindergarten. Grade after grade, we would be in the same classroom until eventually our journeys split somewhere in high school. We would then see each other from time to time, but years would pass in between. In 2013, I quickly confirmed the friend request she sent my way, and her posts would make me smile and like away as she posted about and then shared photos of her outdoor wedding. Her photos of her adorable son would receive a smile every time they came up in my newsfeed. We never talked though. I got one happy birthday note posted on her wall during that window where thanks to Facebook our journeys were connected ever so slightly over the internet and also through updates my mother would give me whenever she would see Christy. She would have been 35 today, but unfortunately, an unexpected death robbed her of that chance back in the summer of 2014 when her Facebook profile became a memorial to a good person with a good heart.
My other friend whose birthday is today did turn 35. I met him one afternoon clear back when we were both high schoolers while I was working at Iola Cinema. He had recently started dating one of my best friends, Erica, and the two of them were off to see a movie together. He was also looking for a job, and after some conversations, an application and a job interview with the manager, he soon became not only my co-worker but also my best friend. We were inseparable for those last years of high school with our hanging out non-stop. He was from a neighboring town, but we would spend evenings together when he was not with his latest girlfriend at the time (Erica and he did not last long), go on weekend hikes exploring some land my family owned, and take trips to the Kansas City area for movie marathons to catch films the little two-plex in Iola would likely never get.
At one time, we talked about being roommates in college although something in the back of my mind told me this would not be a good idea (years later when I was an RA and watching friendships die during the time of sharing a dorm room together confirmed that gut feeling); however, fate threw a hand into the mix, tossing me to Emporia while he went as planned to KU. Eventually, life itself took over our schedules with my throwing myself into campus activities outside of my school work in the humanities and his time becoming occupied with an intense pharmacy curriculum and what seemed to be an even more intense relationship. With little notice, we drifted apart to our only catching up just a few times during the last years of our undergraduate studies before I left for Australia and he for California. Although a few conversations were had over the years, our paths did not cross until he stopped late last fall in Hutchinson for a night on a road trip to find himself after leaving the pharmacy world behind. We caught up that evening and laughed about past stories while talking about a future where our friendship would be back like it once was, but when the morning came, our paths diverged once again to where little communication exists between us.
One of last week’s themes for me, if weeks were to have themes, seemed to be about how paths with others will cross at different times in our lives.
For an example, my mother and I met this wonderful Australian family not once but twice during our Canadian summer adventure. The first time we both happened to have stopped our cars at the same great overlook to catch a view and few photos of Two Jack Lake outside of Banff during the last evening hours. We were there just minutes together. Robert mentioned something about great minds thinking alike, and the five of us chatted briefly before taking in the stunning view nature had given us.
Then the next day my mother and I left the Banff area to head towards Lake Louise. We took our time along the Bow Valley Parkway with our stopping for quite a while to hike into Johnston Canyon. After seeing the beauty of the upper and lower falls, we returned towards our afternoon destination. We hadn’t made it far until we were driving by Castle Cliffs scenic lookout. Originally, I figured we would drive on by, but thanks to what appeared to be a flash of beauty, my mother and I decided we should pull the car around and head back to the pull out where it would take us less than five minutes to see Castle Mountain. Much to our surprise, the car pulling in right before us belonged to no other than that fantastic Australian family we had last seen over 15 hours before and 40 kilometers away. Starting with my greeting them this time with “Great minds think alike!,” what was thought to be a five-minute stop led before we saw them to our being there for over an hour with our conversation flowing over so many different topics. Our plan was to catch up again while we were all in Jasper, but that unfortunately didn’t happen; however, we are staying in touch thanks to emails and Facebook posts. Earlier this week Robert closed out a message mentioning his hopes our paths would all cross again sometime.
Then there was the reading I did this weekend. One of my favorite podcasts is The Tim Ferriss Show (which is a blog post all in its own), and Tim Ferriss has often sung the praises of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Temptation finally got the better of me, and my own copy arrived earlier this week. As a reward for working homework Friday night and Saturday, I granted myself reading time. Late Saturday evening, the book inspired me, as I attempt to avoid any spoilers, to once again think about how people come into our lives for a while before our paths diverge to maybe one day cross again.
The examples kept coming from all sorts of angles, including random thoughts about many people thanks to the date of what would been an anniversary if a past relationship would have made it. Everything seemed to carry that underlying point about how our lives interact with others. Sometimes, those crossings are only for a bit – a moment when eyes lock, a friendly conversation occurs, or perhaps a first and only date happens but nothing else ever occurs after for really no other reason than the workings of timing. Then there are the others where our journeys will run parallel with another’s for months, years, and decades to the point we can’t imagine ever not having that person just a phone call, text message, or simply the turn of a head away.
Inevitably, though, the paths always will diverge somehow and in some way. Sometimes they may cross again much to surprise of both like this weekend when I matched with an old college acquaintance on Tinder. Other times we may hope for them to cross once more with our often telling ourselves to call, text, write a letter, or make a journey to see that person but none of those efforts ever materialize. Then there are the many others times where both just simply drift from each other’s thoughts unless some song, smell, word, Facebook birthdays notification, or trinket ignites a fleeting flash of a memory. With the exception of perhaps those brief recollections of the past, they simply vanish as both go their own ways.
However, the thing is not to focus on the end, and that is what the second week’s theme seemed to hit me over the head repeatedly and say. It was kicked off in a way when my mother wanted me to check out two lines from Roy Clark’s “Yesterday, When I Was Young” that tied to another conversation we have been having, which will be the topic of another upcoming post: “And every conversation I can now recall/Concerned itself with me and nothing else at all.”
That was added later by an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s phenomenally thought-provoking commencement address my friend Jason shared on Facebook. In it, Wallace he called the graduates not to think of themselves as the center of the world but rather think “the Capital T Truth is about life before death; it is about the real value of a real education which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”
And those really are the key things I think. We are to move beyond ourselves and be aware of those around us for however long we are so fortunate to have them around. We can then cherish those times when we look back and not find them to be conversations all about ourselves but rather about each other, about life, about the world we are in, and about really anything else that is out there as we share experiences and create memories for however long our paths should run together.