Seven years ago yesterday one of my best friends died. I’m talking about a man of honor and integrity. He had an illness and the pain did things to his mind. The pain changed him. It was constant pain, unrelenting, always there. In the end the pain was gone and so was he. Or was he?
In some ways he is still here. Right here, right now, even as I write this. He taught me some big time lessons.
Good friends will tell you the truth.
I remember him coming over and saying, “Matt we have to talk.” I jumped in the truck with him and we drove out on the reservation and talked. I didn’t like what he had to say. He said it anyway. He was kind but not gentle. He was honest but not sensitive. He said what he had to say and that was how it was. He was my friend.
Good friends will check up on you.
He called me almost daily at times. When he couldn’t do that it was every week. I called him from Afghanistan and Iraq. These were all quick calls. They went something like this: “How’s it going? (My response) Anything I can pray for? (My response) All right, just checking in. Talk to you later.” And then he would hang up the phone. Sometimes those conversations were not 3 minutes long. Point is that he took the effort to check on me. He cared.
Good friends will allow you be with them in the good times and the bad times.
This man was not some fair weather friend. He did share the good times with me. And let me tell you, we had some good times. We ate some of the best food. We watched a bunch of movies together. We went fishing, drove around, talked about girls, and listened to all kinds of music. He also shared the bad times with me. The operations on his heart. Countless times in the hospital. He told me about the pain. I was always welcome wherever he was -hospitals, doctor visits, even went with him to some dialysis visits. He shared that pain. He let me know that even pain would not make me unwelcome. He cared about me that much.
Good friends will encourage you to be tough.
We were out fishing on the jetty’s (think big, wet, jagged rocks) at night. No, there were no lights. Somebody may have had a flashlight but even those weren’t very bright in those days. It was time for fresh bait. So, I dug the frozen shrimp out of my pack. Now don’t get me wrong, when I say fresh I don’t mean fresh as in fresh, this stuff was frozen. So we had to use a knife and pry individual shrimp from the frozen lot of shrimp. Yes, it was one of those little plastic tubs. Well, I held the tub of frozen shrimp in one hand and a sharp knife in the other. I pushed the knife into the shrimp. SLIP! The palm of my left hand stopped the blade. Blood poured forth. The scar is still there. As I write this I pause to look at the scar and as I do so I hear my friend say. “Don’t worry about that. Dip it in the saltwater so it won’t be infected. We came all the way out here on these rocks. As long as the bleeding stops we should fish for a few hours. (He pauses here, grabs my hand, turns it into the moonlight.) Yeah, you’re fine; let’s fish.” Fish we did. I have looked at that scar many times and thought- I am tough.
Good friends will encourage you to dream big.
Everything I am doing now with music and Vet Church, he encouraged me to do. He died before Vet Church even started. He died before I started standing up, holding that guitar and singing. But before he died we talked about those things many times. He encouraged me to dream big and to pursue those dreams.
Good friends will encourage you to think outside the box.
“Matt, I want you to play this game with me.” I asked him why. His response still rings in my ears. “I was once strong and could run and do stuff. In this game I can run, my character is strong, and I can do stuff again.” I played that game. I connected with a lot of people through that game. He was right, in the game he could do stuff that he did before the illness. And after I played the game I could do stuff that I couldn’t do before I played the game -like see a man in a wheel chair get up and run.
Good friends will celebrate your life with the style and integrity you live and dream.
My friend died. I talked to him the night before he died. I have no idea what we said. Well, I have an idea but I don’t know the exact words. A few days later we cranked up the music and pushed the funeral pyre raft into the current. The fire blazed. The dusk was lit by the reflection from the waves. On the shore, we, his friends and family watched. We talked. He was a warrior and upon that raft were the tools of war. He loved music and music filled the air. He liked people and people lined the shore. He loved food and he sailed forth in the shadow of his favorite restaurant. He had style and we dressed to honor his style. He had integrity- all those who knew him and know him are better for the life he lived with us.
Seven years and one day. I am still here. Still chasing the dream of Relevance.