The good friend….

It came as quite a shock to Zachary. For years, since their carefree fraternity days in a small mid-western college, little or nothing had been spoken between Zach and Travis about politics or even party affiliation.

Even though they had gone their separate ways, both career wise and in actual distance, they had always managed to get together at least once a year, sometimes with family in tow, but more often just a guys’ meet up. They picked a different part of the country each year for these “catch-ups”, as they like to refer to them. It was a time to refresh, to put the stress of work and family on hold and just enjoy whatever issued forth. Like the grudge tennis matches, until time and age inevitably took its toll. And what started as macho runs, eventually morphed into jogs, which in turn morphed into casual walks. Finally, just sightseeing itself was the main event. No matter, they were together again, just like the good old campus days.

At first they reminisced about those times, when responsibility only meant getting to class on time or pulling an “all-nighter’ for an impending exam. They talked about girls they dated, games they played, nights of revelry with fellow frat members and how quickly it all had passed. Then, as the years began to pile up, the talk veered more toward their current lives and real responsibilities. Both Zach and Travis each had two children, a girl and a boy, who were remarkably close in age, with the girls being the oldest.

But there were as many differences as similarities in their lives. Travis went on for a graduate degree and a career in education. Zachary went into the service and then a career in industrial sales. Travis had been much less fortunate in early marriage when his first wife, the mother of his children, ended her own life. Postpartum depression had gained an ugly grip on Elizabeth and refused to relent. This, coupled with some serious past issues with her strident and emotionless father, became too overwhelming for her to bear. One day, she drove two hours into a mountain region and put a hose from the tailpipe into the passenger compartment of the car. It was over all too quickly. Zach had introduced them in college and was as close to Elizabeth as Travis in those early days. It was difficult for Zach to imagine what thoughts must have transpired in her mind in the two hours it took to find that place, knowing all that time she would never see those two lovely children again, or them her.

Travis somehow survived this and became a Rock of Gibraltar for those kids. You know those T-shirts that men wear, saying “World’s Greatest Dad”? Travis literally lived that out. In the interim was another short marriage for Travis ending in an amicable divorce. And then, just like a story book ending, Caroline entered his life. As if picked by a guardian angel, Caroline was the soul-mate sent to soothe Travis’ troubled heart. It’s been that way for many years since.

For his part, Zachary’s life since school had been foreseeable. Always the pragmatic type, he felt an obligation to his country and went immediately from graduation to Naval Officer Candidate School. The resulting culture shock of leaving a fraternity house atmosphere (think “Animal House”) to the boot camp environment of OCS in one weekend was difficult, as one might expect. After that first grueling day, he cried silently in his bunk that night, at times even cursing his mother for giving him birth. But he prevailed, got his commission and served 4 years on active duty before starting his civilian career. Later, as was his bent, he served in church offices, civic groups, and even a two-year stint as PTA President while his kids were young.

As mentioned, during all these life experiences, Zach and Travis still managed to get together on a regular basis. And again, they rarely talked about politics and their allegiances. Until that day, Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. In their next sojourn, just a month and a half after this tragic event, the subject could no longer be ignored. Travis, after hearing Zachary exclaim his pride over how America had reacted to this barbaric act, shot back with his view that he could not abide all the rah, rah, USA rhetoric that was flooding the airways, at least most of them. It came as quite a shock to Zachary. With all the naiveté of a first grader, Zachary had just had his first realization that there was a not-so-small contingent of Americans who had disdain for their country even in its greatest crisis since Pearl Harbor. And here it was, being served to him on a platter of anti-American grandiloquence from none other than his life-long friend. Not one for confrontations, Zachary let the words and the emotions they conjured up simmer, and an enjoyable weekend with the wives went on as planned.

But lightning had struck. Two things jumped out at Zachary as he later processed the encounter. First, his recognition that he had a serious vulnerability. A susceptibility to believe most people thought like him, at least the ones in his intimate circle of family and friends. Later revelations by family members would also confirm the gullibility of this impression. Secondly, he was being forced to examine his own beliefs and whether his own country was somehow complicit in what had happened to it. He asked himself; was he little more than a martinet, marching along to a patriotic tune played by a country with a sordid, much less honored, past? Must one need to forgive his country before he could honor it? Personally, he felt like he had done both.

Still, this inner conflict cropped up occasionally in the intervening years since 9/11. Every time Zach tried to resolve it, variations of one doctrine arose: That it’s a world full of risk, fraught with danger and evil of all kinds and in all quarters. That man could govern himself with laws and moral codes and rise above the evil is noble, albeit pretty much counter to human inclinations as a group. Ironically though, those same laws and moral codes, imposed on us collectively, are what preserves one’s individualism. A group of flawed but intellectual men understood that. From this very concept was the United States of America conceived. Subsequent leaders, like the founders, were also flawed. Blacks and Native Americans can all too easily attest to this. But there’s a certain truth to manifest destiny and it can be an irresistible force.

However, among all the angst came a notion that this country was destined for greatness. This was manifested in the volumes of immigrants who crowded our shores to partake in the freedoms and opportunities afforded here. America overcame its initial mistakes and became the beacon of light for oppressed people everywhere. America is far from perfect. But if a person is into finding fault with countries of the world, good luck. The list is long, horrific, and goes back millenniums before we were a glint in eyes of our founding brothers. As for America lending support to other countries of the world who deserve the same chance at freedom from tyranny, well, guilty as charged.

Zachary and Travis continue to have their annual catch-ups. They still have a good time and reminisce constantly. Predictably, much of the banter nowadays revolves around physical ailments and used-to-be’s, but it’s still fun. However, at least for Zachary, there exists a sad philosophical distance between them that was never there before. But that’s good too. For Zach also realizes that differences are every bit as important as agreements, and he’d much rather have a friend than a clone.

32 thoughts on “The good friend….

  1. This post languished in my inbox until today. Reading it brought tears to my eyes and they are still welling. It has been shocking to learn how differently family and friends think on any given political topic. What is even worse is when hateful comments begin to fly, or cold, silent permanent rifts develop, such as the one between my husband and a favorite nephew. It shuts down dialogue from which we can all learn.

    I am a blog reader who has had the goal of starting a blog since retiring almost three years ago but so far I’ve had cold feet. Yours is one of my favorites. Mary

    • Thanks, Mary, for your sweet compliment.

      Just pop out those first few words about something you’re thinking about and watch the rest of it start to flow. And by all means, let me know where you post.

  2. Excellent story!… its like you were inside my head… I have both Zach & Travis living there at times.
    Being born in Ireland and educated there, I grew up with very anti-British sentiments. Our history and geography were both taught from a very anti-british viewpoint, and it was only in much later years that i realised that we were fed propaganda just as much as the rest of the world was fed about Ireland!
    When i moved to England many years ago I was really surprised how little people knew about Irish History and Geography, but I was even more surprised how little British history and geography I knew! It was like we were taught what the British did to Ireland, and that was about it… the rest of our education was about the rest of Europe.
    Over the years I have become more and more British, (I have lived here longer than I lived in Ireland) and it is a strange feeling… I can understand both sides of the story…
    Sometimes I think I will apply for British Citizenship (it makes certain things like travelling slightly easier) and other times I am proud to be different. In the most part though I prefer to ‘sit on the fence’
    Being able to see things from both sides, means I don’t want to pick either! Neither is right all the time. I can’t even decide if this is a cop out… it’s more i think like watching your children fight… its much easier if they sort it out between themselves!!

  3. Great story, Al!
    A group of us were living in the Middle East when 9/11 happened.
    Two of our best friends, who also lived there at the time, served in the American military during the Vietnam war. Their son served in Iraq. It has been very instructive for us to spend time with Americans who can talk about war with the knowledge that comes from actually having been in one or two of them.

  4. I can identify with the naive Zach. It was a rude awakening for me to hear anti-American sentiment–from Americans. I still pledge allegiance to the flag… Great post, Al.

  5. Hello delightful Al, this is a thought provoking post. Two things float up from it…love endures, even through differences of opinion. Bitterness from early tradegy has lodged in Travis’s heart and that has manifested in his views on his country now. Completely off topic, but good to share….you have inadvertentlly given me the starting chapter of my book…thank you, you are a lovely friend. X

        • You are awesome! Now you’ve inspired me to write a book. Here’s my first sentence. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Either that or “Call me Ishmael.” Wait….just to be safe, maybe I’d better run a copyright check on those….I’ll let you know.

          • Get back to me on that one….from my point of view, I can’t offer you fame, nor fortune, but I can offer you fun, laughter and yummy friendship….had to be said! 🙂

  6. All friends have their own views & quirks and if we learn to agree to disagree, we can still be there for each other to smooth out the bumps on the road of life.

  7. Beautiful. I have “America haters” as friends too. One prefers Mexico, another France, and still another has proudly read (and believes in) the Communist Manifesto. It isn’t easy. Breathe. That’s what I keep telling myself. I sure did need and enjoy reading this meaningful piece…too much basketball nonsense in the air. The “elite eight”? Please!

    • Thank you for your kind words Cindy….and the advice. Probably what bothers me most is the air of intellectual superiority that prevails among these types….and all after they have taken advantage of every last thing this country (and Capitalism) has to offer. Where’s the gratitude?

      • My sentiments exactly. They live as traditional “conservatives”, on their lovely properties in safe communities with inheritances and investments, but preach the opposite. Yes, and I’m told to “move on”….you love that one?

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