Sunday, June 24, 2007

Don't complexify things

My prolific record of posts since my return from spring break should speak volumes regarding my failure to heed the title's advice. And yet, though I've written little here, my fingers have been no stranger to the keyboard.

I'm attempting to draw one long career to a close and set out on another. Just which other is yet to be determined. But the exploration of possible others has kept me rather busy lately.

The other thing that's kept me busy has been reconnecting with some old friends. Back in May, I stood beneath the center of the new Air Force Memorial, staring up at the stars, with only even an occasional passing car as a distraction. I recommend visiting that monument--in fact, I recommend visiting all of them--well after midnight in the middle of the week. I don't like crowds. But I do like individuals. And those I call friends, I tend to like intensely, and for a lifetime. One of those friends gave me that midnight tour of DC. The monuments were nice, the government buildings were nice, the empty streets were like something from The Twilight Zone, but the best thing of all was reconnecting with a friend I'd not seen in a quarter of a century.

Today, I reconnected with another, after nearly a decade. Over an hour on the phone wasn't really long enough. Our kids were in grade school the last time we talked. This fall, we'll each drop one off at different colleges on the east coast. The last time we connected was his birthday, a decade ago, and he was about halfway through a year-long deployment to Korea. For his birthday, I sent him a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing and one of two Costa Rican cigars from a little shop in Fredericksburg, Virginia, picked up on a visit to a battlefield there as part of a graduate course on the literature of the Civil War (good luck untangling those modifiers). Then, through e-mail, we coordinated so that, at the same time, half a world apart, he smoked his cigar on a morning walk in Korea, and I smoked mine, on an evening walk, in gently falling snow, near Charlottesville, Virginia. The walk itself, a long-range version of something we did rarely, but with intense consciousness of each precious moment, sporting cigars on the starlit terrazzo of our shared alma mater, not quite two decades earlier still. A world apart, a shared, smoke-haloed perambulation--and then, the long drift. I hadn't the heart to tell him today that I'd driven by his house once, or, at least a house that was once his, some four years ago. On a road trip from North Carolina to a conference in Florida, I'd detoured through Alabama with an associate to look at a house he was arranging to live in with his family for a year of school there. At my request, we detoured by another as well. There wasn't time to stop for a real visit anyway, we had somewhere we had to be, "miles to go." But even more than that, there was, has been for years, for me, an unexplainable conflict between yearning and foreboding, more like than unlike that of Frost's most famous traveler. Still, I wanted to see the house, to have an idea in what surroundings to picture the closest friend I made in the four-year crucible we called a college, should one or the other of us bridge that drift again.

So, today, I did. Only I could really. I've moved three times since that December walk; he only once that I know of.

Funny thing about both those reconnections, the one spanning a quarter century and the other a decade: both are doctors. Well, technically, I suppose we all three are, but they're the kind who can cure you; whereas, I . . . well as I've told more than one jumper who's approached me for medical care, "I can describe that injury in colorful iambic pentameter and analyze the subtext within the plot turns of your life leading inevitably to it, but I'm not going to be much help to you, medically--not that sort of 'Doc' . . . sorry."

And both are artists, of one sort or another, so naturally, I'm coming to believe that all surgeons have this alter ego as a feature of their personalities. One gardens and cooks on a level well above my head, and the other draws and paints. Both have a gift for words as well, and it is to today's reconnection that I owe the lovely coinage that titles this post. As we both laughed at our growing collection of reading glasses (I find I'm not the only person with a pair in every room, pocket, vehicle, and end-table) and lamented the utter complexity of our lives, I mentioned a yearning "to simplify" my life. He responded, rightly I think, that we were probably past that point, the better strategy would have been "not to complexify them in the first place."

So, this post is a tribute to simpler times and to one of the simplest and most fundamental of life's pleasures: friendship. Quite honestly, I probably don't deserve the caliber of friends I have, and my gratitude that God has seen fit to bless me so abundantly nonetheless is probably all the explanation I ever need seek for my affinity for expressions of friendship in art. Some people saw Serendipity as a chick flick; I saw it as a buddy movie. I've never seen a better scripted or acted portrayal of that mysterious way in which male friendships materialize than the first few episodes of Deadwood, from Bullock's and Hickok's first meeting to the latter's murder. And you already know that I think Reign Over Me the finest movie to come out thus far this year, in any category. But I digress.

To my friends, thank you for putting up with me. You're really the only readers I have anyway. And to any of the latter who haven't been or aren't yet the former, I hope for you that you are or will be at least half so blessed as I in that arena, for were I only even half so blessed, I would still consider myself a very, very lucky man.