I have no clue how people meet and become friends.
When I think about the people I know, I think the best I can do is to 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 me best friends in junior high, it just happened. I moved to his town in seventh grade, we hit it off, and we’ve 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.
Not only was the funeral back in our home state of Wisconsin, it was only a two-hour day trip from my house. I could shoot over, we could catch up, and I’d shoot home. Much more manageable than the 15 hours it would take to drive to his actual home.
I decided to go because, while I couldn’t give you an exact number of years, I would have probably had to start using toes to count how many it had been since we’d seen one another.
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. 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. I’d show up, read the moment, and respect that moment the best I could.
I didn’t visit with Brian before the memorial; I gave him space to be 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 acknowledgment. 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 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. 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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