I spent the weekend getting caught up on 15 years of conversation with my childhood friend Justin Reid. That's a lot of time, especially when the gap encompasses going from a college senior to a married father of two. Things are easy when you're in college and you only have a vague sense of time creeping up on you. As you near age 40, time looks you in the face, slaps you, and mockingly asks, "Whatcha gonna do about it, bitch"? And problems become very real. During this time you become a man and you gain wisdom and you gain perspective and you find a way to articulate your thoughts about the world and how you feel about it. Justin changed and I was amazed by his transformation.
My first memory of him is standing outside his house, watching his parents move in next door. He was 5, I was 7. He was shy but we became friends immediately, spending a lot of time roaming the neighborhood and doing whatever it is boys do at that age. We were both active types so it wasn't difficult to find things to do. We played a lot of sports, most often engaged in duels on the tennis court and at the ping-pong table.
As time went on he grew from a shy kid to a gregarious youth, once taking his parents' car for a joyride at age 14 while under the guardianship of my mother. Though a gentle soul, she was enraged at him, but only for a short time. He had that effect on people, and still does. It wasn't possible to stay mad at him because he was too goofy, too positive, and too much fun. Some people suck the energy out of a room, and some bring tremendous energy. He brings energy with his walk, his smile, and his demeanor. Because he's so fun, you tend to chant his name when he enters (Reid!).
At some point during my high school years, he moved away and we saw each other only sporadically. He went one way to college and I went another, and we kept in touch from time to time and were both in the other's wedding. I moved to California and he moved to Minneapolis where he became a firefighter and has had some success as a model. We had fun when we were together briefly during those times and I noticed small changes, but I never saw the transformation until we talked during this visit.
There's a comfort level with old friends that can't be replicated in other relationships. We easily drifted into conversation like there was never a gap. We talked about the shared memories and we talked about the years where we've been apart. The stories he told indicated the kid went from gregarious to a bit crazy, but he seemed to have always remained the likeable "Reid"! that I always knew. I heard rugby stories (a pole and a naked King Zulu dance), mushroom stories (cowboys?), and LSD stories (beef jerky!). My stories weren't quite as good or entertaining, but the conversation flowed easily and effortlessly, even when we got to the difficult times.
In the time we've been apart Justin has developed an intensely strong faith. You wouldn't know it, necessarily, because it's not in your face or prevalent. As we talked, though, I could see how extremely important it is to him and how he is sure that it has kept the marriage together and given him comfort. The things he said were profound and sincere and deep. He spoke so philosophically about his situation that I became inspired to be a better person. It was never preachy, it was something else. It was mature. This wasn't the rugby dude or the quiet kid or the goofy teen. This was a full on man. His faith had completely transformed him. It had changed him, but it didn't change him.
He went on to tell me some happier stories about camping with his friends and his kids, and I'm convinced he still has the Reid! inside of him. I can tell by the way he speaks about his kids that he's passionate about being a father. I think they get to see the younger Justin from time to time. I was worried he might have lost the inner light, but it's still there. It's a little different, but better, as most things are when they've aged and mellowed. When I dropped him off at the airport I could tell he was excited about getting back to his family. We promised not to let another 15 years pass before our next visit, but you know how those things go. I'm just thankful we got to share a little of that light while he was here in our house.