Life is not a dress rehearsal
“If there is some old friend you want to visit, don’t keep putting it off until it is suddenly too late.”
This was a line in an email from a college friend. It hit home.
When I moved to Maine in 1977 after my residency, I realized that I now lived about 20 minutes from the home town of someone who had had a huge impact on my life the summer after high school.
Larry was a counsellor at Camp Rising Sun in Rhinebeck, NY where I worked that summer. I had just finished high school and broken up with my long-time high school girl friend, not because the flame had burned out but because I wanted to ‘move on’ into adulthood unencumbered by remnants of my childhood. (Something I regretted immediately and for years afterwards.) That summer was full of events that challenged and threatened to overwhelm me. I registered for the draft and one week later totaled the family car, which I had taken for the weekend against the express instructions of my parents while they were traveling. I was introduced to marijuana, mescaline, and peyote. As a 17 and then 18 year old, I led 4- and 5-night canoe trips in the Adironacks with 8 campers each time, some of whom were poor swimmers and not native English speakers and I dealt with one quite serious injury as the only ‘adult’ on those trips. I had my first serious sexual encounter when 3 older counsellors ‘arranged’ a night with a local young woman as a birthday present for me (without warning me). I was sexually accosted by the camp director’s wife. Twice. In the background was the awareness that my parents’ marriage was crumbling.
Larry was my sea anchor. He was easy to talk to, patient, and never judgmental. He was good at responding to questions by helping me find my own best answer. He introduced me to reading poetry aloud to another person as a way to better hear it and understand it (a habit that persists), and he introduced me to poets outside the usual cohort a suburban high school student will encounter. In retrospect I realized (5 or more years later, after Dartmouth) that he was gay. That had not been a concept in my world view at the time and I do not recall it being a problem in any way or for anyone that summer, though I suspect that the other (and older, late college or beyond) counsellors were aware.
After moving to Maine, I had the recurring thought that Larry lived in South Paris, a small town I often traversed to go hiking or skiing and an easy drive, and that I should check to see if he still lived there or had family who could put me in touch. I never acted on that thought - one of the true and lasting regrets of my life.
I’d been in Maine for at least 15 years when I saw an obituary for a McCready from South Paris in the newspaper. It noted that she had been predeceased by her son, Lawrence. Based on the context and then finding his obituary, I knew it was likely he had died of AIDS. Realizing that I had lost the opportunity to reconnect, hear of his journeys and share mine, and perhaps be a friend during his illness left an unfillable hole in my universe.
My college friend, whose email hit home, always closes his correspondence with: Savor every precious moment and always take time to enjoy the “present.” Unlike many email signatures, his message always makes me stop and ask myself what I might think I am too busy to do today - but will regret not doing later.
Thank you, my friend.