I’ve no clue how people meet and become friends.
When I think about the people I know, I think the best I can do is say it’s random. You meet someone and you either get along, or you don’t. Easy-peasy.
So, I don’t know what made Brian and I best friends in junior high, it just happened.
I moved to his town in seventh grade, we hit it off, and have been friends ever since.
Many, many years ago, Brian left our home state of Wisconsin and made New Orleans his hometown.
By then, I’d moved from Milwaukee to Boston, to Los Angeles, and ended up (of all places) in Iowa. Which means we didn’t see one another all that often.
Thankfully, texting and social media allowed us to stay in touch and discuss all things best friends discuss.
A handful of years ago, Brian’s father passed away.
Turns out, the funeral was not only back in our home state of Wisconsin, it was only a two-hour drive from my house; a day trip. Shoot over, catch up, shoot home. Much more manageable than the 15 hours it would take to drive to his actual home.
I decided to attend, because while I couldn’t give you an exact count of the number of years it had been since we’d seen one another, I would have probably had to start using toes were I to use appendages to keep track.
The day of the wake, I hopped into my car and made my way to the church.
During the drive, I wondered what the most appropriate approach would be. I mean, we were old friends, yes, but this was a funeral. His father’s funeral. A public place with a family in mourning. Such situations are always dicey, and I’m not sure anyone truly feels comfortable under such circumstances.
Even after two hours in the car, I never really settled on what words to say. So, I went with my default setting: wing it.
Show up, read the moment, and respect that moment the best you can.
I didn’t visit with Brian before the memorial; I gave him space to visit with family, and if I’m remembering correctly, I arrived only a few minutes before everything was set to begin.
After entering, I made my way to a pew in the back. The closer seats were for those more deserving. It wasn’t my place to throw elbows for front row access; this wasn’t a mosh pit.
Following the service, the grieving family formed a receiving line to thank attendees for coming. I took my place—well toward the back, given where I’d been sitting—still wondering what I was going to say.
As I grew closer, Brian caught my eye while speaking with another mourner. We gave one another nods of acknowledgement. A few people later, it was my turn, and as I was reaching out to shake his hand, it hit me.
Without even thinking, as our hands clasped, I said: “Eric Stratton, rush chairman. Damn glad to meetcha.”
Brian smiled wide.
We had as nice a conversation as two people can have in thirty seconds and under such circumstances, then it was time for the next person. I gave him a shoulder chuck and and as I turned to meet the next person, I heard Brian tell his wife, “That was Eric Stratton, rush chairman. He was damn glad to meet you.”
For whatever reasons (Ray)—call it fate, call it luck, call it karma—I’d come up with the right words for the right moment. I’d pulled Brian, if only for a second, out of his doldrums and given him a spot of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day.
I then found myself face-to-face with his brother, and buoyed by my moment, I extended my hand and said the same thing: “Eric Stratton, rush chairman. Damn glad to meetcha.”
He stared back at me blankly.
And that’s why some people become friends, while others do not.
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