I've been thinking, reminiscing actually. Remembrance brings with it the realization that I've lived just long enough to know a few things with absolute, crystalline certainty.
First, I know that I do not know it all. There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought I had everything figured out. The enigmas of life and love weren't mysteries at all. I was cocky. I was ignorant. I was twenty, and I had the world licked in the first round. In round two, marriage and children landed a vicious uppercut, and effectively handed me my ass. Lesson learned.
Second, I've learned gratitude. I've been fortunate to have in my life some people of genuine character; mentors who have guided me to the right choice or dragged me - kicking and screaming - to a better decision. Sergeant First Class William Johnson, Professor Karen Callahan, G. Michael Apostol, and Captain Michael Klusacek are among the finest people I know. I am a better man for having had these folks in my life.
Finally, I've learned a sad and immutable truth. Friends come, and friends go. Rarely do the years spare relationships that we pin to the fringes of our hearts. All too often, those people we take into our confidence are forgotten when we're separated by distance and time. Maybe I'm a little too cynical, or perhaps I'm not a very good friend, but life does seem to have a way of ending a friendship not with a bang, but a whimper.
With all that in mind, I find myself traveling the paths of memory, and categorizing the epochs of my life by the company I've kept.
For most of us, the years we spend in high school are fundamental to our social development. This is where we begin to foster an identity separate and distinct from that of our immediate family, and our friends are central to that development. Brett, Craig, Jesse, Sun, John and Seth were all great guys. We played a thousand pick-up games of basketball, and collectively drank a thousand bottles of cheap beer. Meghan was the token female of the group, and truth be told - with her acid tongue and especially colorful vernacular - Meghan was one of the boys. Of course, it didn't hurt that she had absolutely radiant eyes, a truly disarming smile, and an infectious laugh. We were all tight, the closest of friends, and we haven't spoken to each other in twenty years.
My fellow soldiers were men for whom I would have willingly sacrificed my life. This is not some trite cliche. I loved even the worst among them. The best of them - Fitzpatrick, Kowalski, Eagleeye, Kim, and Magana - were my brothers. We were united by a code, shared experience, and our love of country. There isn't a day goes by I don't think of the time we spent together. For a short while we shared everything, yet we haven't shared so much as a phone call in 15 years.
Later came college, and then my professional life. In all the schools I attended and all the institutions in which I worked, there were people with whom I was close. Like so many of the people before them, they too have passed out of my circle and into memory. As sad as it is, it is equally true - friends come and friends go. Such is the nature of things.
Unless you fish.
Fishing partners aren't friends. Fishing partners are family, and family forever remains family.