The other day, for whatever the reason, I found myself wondering about years past, as I looked in the mirror during my early morning “get ready” for work routine. It was a good thing. The way it used to be, way back in the fifth or sixth grade.
I’m sure most of you over the age of thirty, from time to time wonder where an old childhood friend might be today. How did he or she turn out? What variety of life’s pitfalls did they overcome? He might have been the best athlete in the school; someone you admired, or competed with. She was the little girl with the big smile who sat directly in front of you; the one who was the smartest kid in the class. I saw faces; remembered attitudes; who was tall; who was sloppy, and who was neat. There were aggressive kids and those so shy the teachers had trouble getting them to participate on anything requiring a verbal presentation up in front of the class. The voices are gone. For whatever the reason, I can recall many of the faces, but what my schoolmates sounded like escapes me.
It was a time in my life when all of us had everything in common. We were boys and girls who lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same school, and shared the label of middle class Americans, not poor, not rich, decidedly middle.
The word love rarely came into a meaningful play; nor was the term hate used in a serious vein. “I love chocolate. I hate chocolate.” That was about the extent of our love/hate expression.
Most of us have delved into self-reflection. It’s ours to experience, usually at our own propelled bidding. Naturally there are the conditioned response memories, times when without warning an event resurfaces, allowing pleasures as a rekindling; Some to our liking, bringing smiles, with endearments, capturing the moments in time which are ours alone to savor. Surely there were the not so pleasant events, none of us wish to relive. But those are the ones we learn and experience growth from by thinking back.
At eleven years of age, it was my first really deep thought experience. Up until that moment, what had existed for this sixth grader were happiness, laughter, and the occasional disappointment over the realization the Dodgers were not going to win the pennant for yet another year.
Robert wasn’t a really close friend of mine. He was one of those quiet introverted types. He wasn’t a klutz, but by the same token he wasn’t a kid who was one of the first to be picked when we were choosing up sides for a sandlot ballgame. Robert did however have the unpleasant distinction of being the first kid in our class to lose a parent. I suppose it was a day or two following his father’s funeral that Robert returned to school. He looked different to me. There was something in Robert’s eyes that told the story. Of course his life would never be the same; none of us knew that. What we didn’t know was Robert’s loss was also ours. For the first time in my life I was to say, “I’m sorry about your Dad, Robert.” Robert could barely speak. I don’t recall a sound being made. Robert mustered a token thank you nod. The next day I picked him first to play on my team. To this day I wish I might have picked him before his Dad was gone.
Loss or gain is always an action, which causes change. For an eleven-year-old boy in the sixth grade, a new thought was to be perceived without warning. While I had not yet used the word empathy, I would never the less have it with me for the rest of my life.
From time to time I will be writing about some of my friends from the past who have become well known to the world. There names will be changed to protect their privacy.