In a sense, I said goodbye over 20 years ago. It was then that I moved with my family away from small-town Lebo, and with the exception of a couple of short visits, I’ve not been back.
But there is a saying – you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. So, in that fashion, part of my heart has always been back in Lebo. I openly admit this, and my wife and I have included in our long-range plans the purchase of wooded acreage outside a small town (not necessarilly Lebo, but certainly it is the model).
But, you know how teenagers always feel like they are bullet-proof? Well, with my particular point-of-view on spirituality, I have felt that not only was I bullet-proof, but so was the rest of my class. My peers. The people who knew me “back when.”
I was riding high on the win of finishing my tax prep class with good marks when I got an email from a dear friend who was also a childhood class mate and my next-door neighbor for 10 years. She was letting me know that another of our classmates was dead. Today is the funeral. I don’t think any of my classmates was emotionally ready to bury one of our own yet, though we are all in our early 40’s now.
I can’t say I’ve stayed in touch with him, but I do remember him. Vividly. For one thing, he was the tallest, strongest member of our class. The trouble makers never seemed to bother him, probably because they instinctively knew he could break them like a dry twig if they did. Yet, he was quiet, and gentle like a stuffed teddy bear.
He had a strong work ethic, too. From the earliest that he was allowed to, he would spend his summers out working the hay trucks, tossing bales of hay up onto the trucks to be stacked by others. And, from what I heard, he was good at it. The guest book (online – sponsored by the funeral home) had several entries in it by people who have worked with him more recently, and the pattern seems to have held. They each comment on his work, his honesty, his easy-going grace. Well, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
Though many other kids did, he never caused me any trouble. He just didn’t get involved. I respected him for that, because he could have easilly given me some severe beatings. Looking back, I think I can see why he didn’t. His obit says he was survived by a significant other who was also male. I’m sure some of my classmates are surprised, or shocked, or dismayed. I’m not. It fits what I remember of him, without making him ugly or bad in any way.
Perhaps because what I remember most about him was that he was quiet, and kept to himself, off to the side of the group, as if he knew something about himself that the rest of the group probably wouldn’t have accepted. Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the group, but I hope they aren’t as narrow-minded as that. I’ve had several close friends over the years who lived homosexual lifestyles, and I don’t try to change that in them, as long as they accept that I’m heterosexual. I don’t see why that should be a problem for mature, intelligent adults.
Well, Chris, you cast a long shaddow. You touched more lives than you can possibly know, and never harmed any of them as far as I know. It is my belief that you have only left behind one body to get another and start over, and if it turns out I’m right, I hope and pray that you find the deepest wells of happiness, and drink from them as you start your new journey. Farewell, my friend. You will be missed.