On Friday, I received an email from my best friend Nicholas, who has just arrived in Iraq in the past week for a year long deployment. He had received word that his best friend from high school, Charles, had died in a motorcycle accident on Thursday. Though he hadn't had contact with Charles for several years, the news certainly is upsetting. Especially since he is in Iraq and won't be able to attend the funeral.
I only had the chance to meet Charles once, when I had visited Nick in January 1991. Nick and I have known each other since 1984, when I lived in Bellevue, Nebraska. He is my oldest friendship, not to mention my best friend. Besides our first name in common and having an American father who served in the U.S. Air Force who married foreign women (his mother is from French-speaking Switzerland, my mother is from Thailand), our both being left-handed, we are also introverts, though I think he is even more introverted than I am. Anyhow, when I made the visit back to Omaha before I went to Basic Training, I got the chance to meet his best friend Charles, who I think is extroverted, if I remember correctly. The guy had long hair, was into hard rock / heavy metal music, but he had impeccable manners. One couldn't look at him and judge him correctly, because he defied stereotypes. We had gone to see Home Alone, which was a lot of fun, and I even got to meet Charles' family.
In the years since, Nick has told me a little bit about what Charles was up to and if memory serves, I believe Nick was the Best Man at Charles' wedding and was the godfather to Charles' daughter. The way Nick talked about Charles reminded me a bit of my other best friend, Nathan, whom I met in 1994. Nathan and I are about as opposite as two friends can be and still remain friends. What bonds our friendship, though, is the fact that we belong to the same church and our families had met ten years earlier than when Nathan and I happened to meet at church one Sunday in 1994. Nathan is extroverted and a lot of fun to be around. While I place a high value on my friendship with Nicholas, I think it is also important for an introvert to have at least one good extroverted friend. It makes for a great dynamic. Like Charles, Nathan is a real go-getter and risk-taker. Nathan loves riding motorcycles, though his wife doesn't want him to. When I first got to know Nathan in 1994 and 1995, my impression is that he is likely to die in a motorcycle accident. Because of that, I've spoken against him riding one. When I visited him in San Diego in May 2008, he had mentioned wanting to buy and ride a motorcycle again. I told him why he shouldn't (he's far too reckless and he has a family to think about now), he kind of got mad while his wife actually told him he should listen to me! I was stunned.
There's no doubt that motorcycles are dangerous. But the increase also comes when a certain personality type that loves thrill seeking and making high risk maneuvers gets on a motorcycle. I've seen the way Nathan has driven a car in the past (he loves to take corners without slowing down) and if he rides a motorcycle the way he drives a car, his time on earth is marked. So, when I heard about Nick's best friend Charles' motorcycle accident death, a part of me understood the depth of tragedy and sadness this is. Charles would have turned 40 in August. This was the death that I feared of Nathan. Unfortunately, though, extroverted guys who love to live fast and take all kinds of risk seem to lack the caution gene that both Nick and myself are embedded with. I don't know if its an introversion thing or what, but we're both kind of "risk averse" and tend to look at every possible outcome before we make any number of decisions. Nathan once mocked me for that when he said, "Good luck in the slow lane, careful guy!" I read an article awhile back that indicated that adventurous people don't tend to live as long as cautious people. Gee, I wonder why that's the case?!? If I were to tell Nathan about Charles' death, he would be dismissive of it because that will "never happen to him"! However, that's what his strong ego likes to say to him.
One of the things I did not understand about Charles, though, was that he did not keep in touch with Nick. I had wanted to see him at Nick's wedding and talk with him a little, but he wasn't there. I guess I'm clueless about what goes on in most men's minds, because men don't generally seem to be good at keeping in touch with friends the way women are (one of the things I most admire about women!). There have been articles written that seem to indicate that part of the reason why men have "mid-life crisis" is because they don't maintain friendships with other men. When men get married, they devote everything to their marital relationship while the wife continues to maintain her group of friends throughout the marriage. If the marriage doesn't work out, the men are alone and lack a network of good friends to lean on. Sure, there might be buddies men get along with and play sports with, but in terms of having real conversations and being authentic friends, it is difficult to find and foster such friendships in adulthood. Maintaining friendships with other men that you knew in high school, the military, and college is vital in the long run.
Like Nick's friendship with Charles, I can see the friendship with Nathan slipping away. Nathan has kept in touch less and less frequently over the years. I have no idea what's going on with him, but its like ever since he put on the khaki uniform of a Chief Petty Officer, it's like he's in some special class of people who don't deal with the likes of me. I'm sure that's not the case, but still...it is difficult to see a friend you were once close to drift away like you no longer matter in their lives. I will never understand that at all. I've always valued all of my friendships (with males and with females) since elementary school. But I also understand that life does take its course and sometimes people drift away whether you want them to or not. My hope is that the soul of Charles will realize what a true and great friend he had in Nicholas. He needed a friend like Nicholas in life, but now its too late to change things. I'm not sure how Nicholas feels about the shocking death, but I'm sure that it is a difficult one to process. I would feel the same way about the death of my three closest friends: Nicholas, Nathan, and Matthew (my D.C. roommate). Especially if I was not able to attend their funeral and share with others what their friendship meant to me.
The guy whose house I rent a room from recently bought a motorcycle. He keeps trying to get me to learn how to ride it so I can buy one. However, I won't ride a motorcycle because of how dangerous it is. Riding a bicycle on streets is scary enough, but anytime you add speed to being exposed, that makes it especially dangerous. Besides, my father almost died in a motorcycle accident. Before he joined the Air Force, he had ridden a motorcycle without a helmet and crashed. He could have easily died and I would not be in the life situation I've had if he had died. My dad never rode a motorcycle again and growing up, when he would tell that story, it ingrained in me the dangers of motorcycle riding. I know some say that to live is to risk, that one could slip down the stairs and break their necks. However, I know for myself that a motorcycle is a heavy piece of equipment that requires good balance and coordination, that it is very easy to make a mistake...which is a mistake that could very well cost you your life. I'm simply not a risk taker. I understand the appeal of a motorcycle and especially the coolness factor (for example, a lot of women seem to think it is a very manly thing for a guy to ride a motorcycle, thus very attractive for them), but its not for me. Of course, we can't control (nor should we) what our friends decide for themselves, but it still doesn't erase the fact that I would feel a lot of grief if my best friend Nathan died in a motorcycle accident.
All I can say is, may God bless Charles, for the joy and friendship he brought to people's lives, including my best friend Nicholas. A true friend can never be replaced nor forgotten, only cherished for all the days of our lives. Rest in peace, good man!