McFadyen's Musings Jan/ Feb 2017
Our parents knew exactly what we were up to. I never recall a need even to get their permission. It was just part of our being high school pals, and they were fine with it. Yet, that same parent-approved action would today land us on the front page of the newspaper and facing felony charges.
In our respective houses, he and I would wake early (as duck hunters must), dress in the pressed khaki pants and blue button-down shirts our moms preferred us to wear and head out well before day in our jalopies. We met up at McFadyen Lake in what was then “the country.” We would shoot at (and usually miss) the dawn flight of wood ducks and mallards before trekking back to our vehicles around 7:45 a.m. When we arrived at Terry Sanford High School before the 8:25 bell, we would put the shotguns and camouflage in the trunk of our cars and walk our blue-button-down selves to class. As I said, doing that today would be a felonious act.
After graduation, our paths diverged. He went on to be a serious engineering student, while I wore down my fingernails clutching the precipice of academic failure. He quickly found the girl of his dreams, married her and proceeded to have a passel of children. The girl in my dreams always looked different than the girl in the dream the night before, and it took me a dozen years longer than him to narrow down those visions into one fine woman. He and I both returned to our family businesses, him confidently and me reluctantly. He went about living the life his mom had hoped he would. I went about exploring what it was my mom had been keeping me away from.
We saw each other infrequently in those after-high-school years. Yet, when we did, despite the diverging paths, we always saw in each other a basic goodness. We also remembered that neither of us was a very good shot at ducks.
Five or six years back, we began to see more of each other. By chance, we ended up in the same place more often. It was pleasant.
Around that same time, the news came. My button-down buddy’s beloved wife was in a struggle for her life. Cancer. It was Stage 4 upon first diagnosis. That is grim news for any family, but it is especially scary when there are little guys running around fully dependent on their mother for traditional nurturing in a nuclear family.
When my dad’s death had been diagnosed, but while his fight was still being fought, Pop gathered all six of his grandchildren around him after Christmas brunch. He had several pages of things he wanted to say to them. They were the principles by which he hoped they would live when he was gone and by which he hoped they would remember him as having lived. One of the pages was from Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech. It was the part about laughing, thinking and being emotionally moved to tears every day. And of course, there was the “never give up” part.
For five years, the wife of my high school chum fought back against the ravages of cancer, never giving up. In that time, she inspired children into and out of college. She saw graduations and she knew the satisfaction of seeing her children become professionals in the corporate world. She held calloused young hands and stroked heads of long hair. She gave all of them the best of a mother’s love. Despite chemotherapy and blood transfusions and pain and nausea, she maintained oversight of the household. She was the encourager as much as she was encouraged, especially to my old buddy in response to his fears of the eventual life he would live without her.
Today, it is that very life that he is living. She is not of this world any longer. She is in that other world of glory that we can neither understand nor explain, only believe. And while her family misses her, they know their matriarch no longer shares in their pain. She lives anew and she waits happily for them.
To her last day, said my pal, she thought that she would beat cancer. Perhaps she did not. However, she did not lose to cancer either. At worst, she fought it to a noble stalemate.
In our most recent visit, Old Pal told me of a poignant call from one of the daughters. Away in school, she was missing the benefit of the communal healing that happened at their house each day. Sensing need, Old Pal asked if she wanted him to come see her. She did.
My friend has been many things in 55 years. Spontaneous is not one of them. Yet, in this new life that he is living, within moments of hanging up the phone, he was barreling west across our state’s highways to minister to his little girl in need and to receive the same from her.
He told of arriving in her town with his truck and his keys and his phone and his wallet. He was without a change of clothes or a toothbrush or anything else that might accompany any one of us on an overnight visit. Those things were unimportant at the point of disembarkment from Fayetteville. So after the first cathartic meeting with his daughter, Old Pal found himself in 30,000 square feet of department store, looking for a shirt to wear the next day.
“It occurred to me that this was the first shirt I remember buying for myself...in my life.” Standing over those stacks of blue and white button-down shirts, he did not know a Traditional Fit from a Tailored Fit from a Slim Fit. His mom and his big sister had bought his clothes when he was growing up and his wife had bought them when he was a man. So there he stood, lost in a 30,000 square foot sea of retail choices, getting whacked across the back by another measuring stick of what was lost and of how his life had changed.
I listened, trying to convey empathy, but I have never lost like he has now lost. So I chuckled when he chuckled at how he must have looked in that store. I teared up when he got teary at telling how we have nothing if we have no faith.
In the silence that cued me to speak, I said this: “At some point, buddy, I think we all just wander around lost and alone inside a crowded room trying to figure out what style we are and what it is we really need.”
Of these things, though, I am sure: he will look handsome in his new shirt, he is going to ache for as long as he lives life here on earth and he is going to be just fine at finishing what the two of them started.