Maybe it’s just me… but I love a blank sheet of paper.
There are not many things I love more than having a free evening, a cup of coffee in hand and a blank sheet of paper in front of me. I love it even more when I fill that sheet up with words.
What is exciting to me is that I never know where it is going to take me. It is always an adventure as to where I will end up. Each and every time I plan on writing about something specific I never do. I am never able to plan it out like that. I just let the story or subject just flow out of my memory. I like the thrill of looking at a picture or listening to some music that bring back some memories and I just love to let it flow from there and see where it takes me. It is probably why my writings are so disjointed sometimes. Like I have always said… I love to write, I never said I was good.
They say that hindsight is 20-20, and I guess it’s true. When I look back into my past I see the paths that I have walked…some well worn paths and others where I only see my lone footprints. Each path has a memory, some good and some not so good. Regardless, they are paths that I have chosen to walk and the end result of my wanderings have given me a valuable cache of lessons learned.
This evening was no different from any other night. I sat down with a wonderful cup of coffee and I started staring at the blank page in front of me. I was wondering where it will take me tonight. Just then a picture that is in a small frame sitting on my office desk caught my attention. In that frame is a small faded picture of me and Bryan Blakley. That picture was taken just before we picked up our dates for the Homecoming Dance in 1976. We were desperately trying to look cool in our leisure suits and long hair. We failed.
For some reason I started to think about Bryan. I had known him for over 40 years. I do not really remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life. From about the age of 6 to 17, I cannot think of one thing that I was a part of that he wasn’t involved in some way. He and I played together and fought together. We did just about everything together…whether that was skipping school…going on a double date or just hanging out.
One of my favorite remembrances of him was a time that we walked home from the fair about the time we were 16. We had just spent the last night of the fair walking around checking out the girls and just having a good time. Nothing of real significance happened that evening at the fair. As a matter of fact, I don’t really remember anything specific even happening. Just the two of us acting stupid, (and again) trying to be cool. We failed again.
The fair had closed for the night about 11:30 and Bryan and I decided to walk home that night. The Ottawa County Fairgrounds is located about six miles outside of Oak Harbor, Ohio. At 16, the premise of walking six miles to home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical. I remember that it was pitch black that night. It seemed you couldn’t see past your next step. We took our time. There was no need to hurry. Didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.
Maybe it was just the mood we were in or maybe it was because it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I remember it like yesterday. What I remember is that Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home. We talked about our childhood, our families. We talked about music, what we liked and disliked. We talked about girls. We talked about our future. He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio. He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better. For me, I wasn’t exactly panicked about my plans. I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my life. Hey – I was sixteen years old. To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.
Then the subject matter changed. We started to talk about what we believed in. Bryan was asking all kind of questions. That was really odd for Bryan, because there were topics he just would not discuss. But not this night…we talked about everything. Bryan knew me as well as anyone can know another person at 16. We were as close as brothers. He knew I went to church but I never once considered sharing my faith and what I really believed in to anyone before, especially him. I mean. he knew my weaknesses and he knew my failures as well as anyone could.
But on this night, this dark ridiculous night, I shared my faith and told him what I believed. Maybe my boldness came from the fact that it was pitch black and I could not see his reaction to my words, or maybe Bryan couldn’t see my hands shaking in fear, but for whatever reason I said it out loud. Bryan never said a word in argument. He just kept asking questions and I tried to answer them as best I could. Soon our conversation drifted to another subject and nothing more was discussed about our faith and what we believed in.
We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking. It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that somehow that night I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wanted to stay there, in that night… more than anything I wanted before. But I knew I couldn’t. I was sixteen. I slept under a roof my father owned, in a bed my father bought. Nothing was mine, except my fears. And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore. Things were about to change. Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block. Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families were gone now. Scattered. The ones who stayed were not the same. The world was moving on. My world… their world. And only the lights remained the same.
We didn’t really accomplish anything that night. At least that is what I thought at the time. Our remaining high school years that lay ahead would find us moving in different directions. There would be other nights where we would hang out and try to be cool. We always failed. But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one. That night and the long walk home will always be set apart in my memory and in my heart.
Over the next 30 years when our paths crossed and we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets.
Last year, Bryan’s mom passed away. I had the extreme privilege to express my love and thankfulness for a woman who I could call Mom as easily as my own mother. I knew Bryan had taken her death very hard. I wanted to talk to Bryan that day, but I could see he was, as all of us were, extremely saddened by her death. A few days later, I received an email from him. And if you would allow me, I would like to share a portion from his letter…
It made my day seeing you as always and I cannot express how much I appreciate your speaking at Mom’s funeral. I do not even know how to say it, but let’s say that losing my Mom has been really hard on me. But I know that she is in a better place and her suffering is gone. I know I will see her again.
As you may or may not know this has been a heck of a year. 2 years in fact. The worst time in my life physically.
I really don’t like email that much. It seems so impersonal, especially when talking with you. Business is different these days…I still prefer face to face or at least on the phone.
It was really great seeing you, and I wanted to let you know, even though I don’t talk about it, I wanted you to know that I am a Born Again Christian. We talked about that a long time ago when we walked home from the fair. Remember? It has taken me a long time to come to this decision, but I have accepted Him, into my life.
I struggle with sharing it with anyone because of some of the things I have done. I wanted you to know and I would love to speak with you about that.
Tell your Mom and Dad I said Hello…
Anyway, I am getting long winded here.
Warm Regards, Bryan
I called Bryan a few times over the past year. Not as many as I now wish I would have. We talked, and talked. About everything. Telling stories and having a time of laughter and glorious memories. We talked about his decision to follow Christ and how he wished he had lived his life differently. I just reminded him that God’s grace is sufficient to cover even his worst sin. He was forgiven and accepted…regardless what he did in his life.
Then few months ago, I received a phone call. I just couldn’t believe the news on the other end. Bryan had passed away. I was already reeling from the loss of my closest friend (Bob Emrich) in May and now my childhood friend was gone as well. I was shocked and in some ways I am still not over the loss of my two closest friends. For whatever reason, God sometimes allows people to be taken very quickly from us. Many times, so fast that we never get the chance to say the things we needed to say.
I will cherish that time. The last conversation with him was no different from the conversation I would have had with him over 30 years ago when we walked home from the fairgrounds.
Our lives indeed took different paths but we will always share the common bond we found in what we call family.
Simply put, Bryan was a very good man…that loved his wife, his daughter, his step-children, his mother and father, his brothers, his relatives and his friends. I loved him as a brother.
In closing, the lyrics to one of my favorite songs goes like this…
In Christ, there are no goodbyes
In Christ, there is no end
So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
So I can see you again.
Bryan…I miss you my friend and brother… I cannot wait until I get to see you again.
Our reunion will be…stupid, ridiculous and glorious.