40 years, an apology and vow to be better

WARNING, THIS IS PERSONAL:

This year is one of “those” years. It’s the 40th anniversary of my wedding, the 40th anniversary of my graduation from Clemson University and the 40th anniversary of my 21st birthday.

Lots to be celebrated and I have and will.

But just the other day I got a painful reminder of what else has happened in those 40 years: losing touch with folks who were once close friends.

Theta ChiA fraternity (Theta Chi, Eta Alpha chapter) brother sent a note to ask if I knew that another of our brothers had died. Not only “no, but hell no,” was the answer.

It was a painful realization of our mortality, and of my failure to keep in touch with folks who were once a significant part of my life. The list is agonizingly long of folks who I was certain were so close we would never lose touch, who shared the deepest secrets and agonies, who struggled together through love and life and school (some more easily than others) — which when you are 17-21 years old can be all-consuming.

There’s the brother who stayed with me and talked me into hitch-hiking through the night to see my eventual wife after one of those phone arguments that ended with a breakup. (See 40th wedding anniversary, above, for an idea of how important that was.)

There’s the brother who I sat with and worried with over his own romantic struggles — I’m not sure he ever cleared that hurdle.

There are the weddings and the parties, the celebrations, the arguments, and, yes, the tears, of friendship.

I’m not going to mention any names of these brothers here — they know who they are, if they ever read this.

But this week, the word came that one of those brothers had died. ON FEBRUARY 9th! Here it was May 1 and I didn’t know.

One of the great things about Facebook is its ability to reconnect, and a couple of years ago, some of us indeed had begun to do that, spurred on by a group of young men then at Clemson who were trying to rejuvenate our chapter, which had fallen dormant. Because of these young men, several of us who had not kept in touch finally got off our asses — well, let’s say I finally got off my ass — and gathered for homecoming to do two things:

1) Celebrate the relaunching of our chapter (that didn’t turn out so well, for reasons which are irrelevant here; let’s just say there is no longer a Theta Chi chapter at Clemson and I hold the national office responsible for that, but that’s another rant.)

and

2) Spreading the ashes of another of our brothers who had died too soon and tragically. That was a celebration that turned out very well.

On that occasion I saw many people whom I had not seen in, at the time, 38 years. I even had my fraternity pin on for the first time in those years. We laughed, we drank, we tailgated well into the evening, we joined with others who’ve done a much better job at remaining connected, we vowed to stay in touch this time.

Well, that’s sorta’ happened.

There were some who didn’t make it to that 2010 Homecoming game who we were able to connect with — and my friend and brother who died on Feb. 9 was one of those. We had connected on Facebook, and said we’d talk to each other. There had been a few FB messages back and forth, more promises to talk.

We didn’t.

A minister friend of mine — another on that list of folks to whom I’ve been a bad friend — once preached a sermon riffing on that old axiom that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” His point was that intentions do matter, even if we don’t always follow through.

I sure hope the hell he’s right, because if he’s not, my road to hell is about 16 lanes wide and multiple layers of concrete thick.

The brother who told me the news of the death is one of those with whom I reconnected in 2010, and for that I’m thankful.

I was able to share the news with some other brothers who I also have found on Facebook and elsewhere. They are as stunned as I was.

And so, today, I placed two phone calls that I have been intending to make for more years than I can count, but it comes close to 40.

Both went to voicemail, and I really hope I’ll get a call back. If not, I’ll call again. (UPDATE: got one callback; great conversation.)

We need each other. Friendships are too precious to be allowed to go fallow.

We had a saying back in those days at Clemson; it was actually the motto of the local fraternity that was the seed for the Theta Chi chapter: Rally for brotherhood.

I hope it’s not too late to rally again together.

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