image The Greatest Gift Received.

I met up with an old friend today. One I had not seen in a few years. It was a bitter sweet reunion. It was a time of reflection of days past and fond memories of growing up together. 

We looked at old pictures, even a slide show of growing up. Reminiscing with others as well about being young and carefree. We talked much of the old days where things were more simple. Times when we had our entire lives ahead of us.

We were once very good friends. We hung out in a crew in middle school and were part of the “in” crowd. We were a bit crazy, certainly naive, learning the ropes of life and trying to find our way and fit in the best we could.

Middle school is a tough and uncomfortable time. It is a time we truly begin to want to feel accepted by people. Sometimes we act differently around other people so that we may fit in, and be accepted by the “in crowd.” 

We certainly had our share of laughable moments. We used to do silly things that most middle school kids do while trying to fit in. We caused a little havoc – (maybe a lot) bent some rules, experimented with some things we probably should not have and did ridiculous things all in the name of learning who we were and having fun. 

He used to ride on my handle bars of my bike and we would reenact and sing Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” rap video. (We crashed a few times, and he never let me forget it whenever we met up during previous encounters!) We wore White Sox hats, Dallas Cowboys apparel and identified with all the “in” trends of the time. It is probably cliche to say this, but it holds true; it was simply a different time back then.

As with most friendships, they evolve over time. Both of us had different interests in high school and subtly, but unintentionally, we drifted apart in to different cliques. Unlike many occasions of friends traveling down different paths in life, there was absolutely no animosity what so ever between me and my old friend. There was always a level of respect we had for each other and any time we bumped in to each other at parties during and after high school, we still clicked, even if just for that moment, like no time had passed between us.

I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder growing up. I always felt the need to prove myself in some way. Whether it was to escape the shadows of my brother who paved an almost impossible path of athletic achievement and popularity for me to follow, wanting to be the biggest and baddest dude in the world, the most rebellious, liked, loved, mysterious and toughest guy on the block, I inevitably rubbed some people the wrong way. We simply can’t please everyone, no matter how hard we try.

Yet old friends never forget who we truly are on the inside. They choose to sympathize and empathize, not pass judgement. 

I had numerous struggles after high school, during and after college. Those who know me best know it wasn’t always the easiest time in my life for me. I never asked for sympathy from others nor did I seek any attention. In fact, I often pushed people away who tried to connect with me at times. My true friends, the few I trusted and never judged me unfairly, those who remained by my side or treated me with respect during my rough patch will always have a place in my fondest of memories and in return, will always be treated with the utmost respect by me.

I experienced pain from all directions. I didn’t catch many of the breaks in life that most people around me were able to catch. I am by no means a victim, nor do I blame anyone but myself, but I also recognize that I had a tougher climb to get off the bottom of the rocks than most people.

I struggled with many different issues. Addictions, depression, the loss of my father (who was and always will be my hero,) made terrible financial decisions, never listened to those who knew better than I and made about as many bad decisions as one can make while trying to become a man.

My heart was also repeatedly smashed against the rocks by different girls that I had strong emotional attachments too. Ironically never for the same reason, but always painful and crippling to recover from. 

They say the harder it hurts, the more we cared. Well – I cared about as much as a person can for a few. Some are gone from my life forever, some occasionally say hello, but ultimately, my bond with all of them and the flame we had is gone. Parts of me still ache at the constant heart break I suffered over the years. I hide the scars deep inside. One that hit harder than most, I chose to exhibit openly, out of respect for the honesty and all the life lessons/experiences shared.

However, all of those moments hardened me. It made me realize that there have been beautiful moments in my life. Just because something hurt doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful. It makes me realize that beauty is still possible. It gives me hope.

The greatest gift I have received is the constant losses and pain that I have felt in my life. 

I have been broken. I have felt what it feels like to be hopeless. I have lost everything I’ve had at certain points in my life. 

I have also stood back up every time I have been knocked down. I can’t feel much internal pain at this point. I can sympathize and empathize with almost anyone and any struggles they may be going through. I choose not to preach, but to listen. Change can not come from a demand or ultimatum from a friend or loved one; it has to come from within. Any challenges or pain that crosses me in life I am prepared for. I know how to be a better man and human being because of my darkest days. It enables me to shine a light during dark moments that arise in life.

The abyss never swallowed or consumed me. It helped open my eyes and take on new perspectives in life. Instead of feeling that life is unfair or that I can’t succeed, I try to be considerate of others. I put myself in the shoes of others. Not to pass judgement on them, but to gain an even deeper perspective and to learn from their life experiences. Once a closed and stubborn book, I am now more open and accepting of life’s obstacles and lessons that are scattered everywhere around me.

There are people in this life that have touched the deepest, most guarded parts of my soul. While many of them left scars, they also helped me to become a better person and I respect them as much as I respect people like my buddy I saw today.

I will never close myself off to anyone who has touched the deepest regions of my soul. They each have a key to open the doors to the deepest parts of my being.

Tomorrow will be the last time I see my old friend. He will always be remembered. A part of him will always be inside of me, reminding me that I have to take risks in this life and to not worry about the opinions of others. To stand my ground, yet be open, less judgmental and most importantly, do what makes me happy. He will also be a constant voice telling me to “tat up!” (Get more ink, aka, bigger and badder tattoos.)

After all, at the end of the day, true success can only be measured by our own happiness. It can never be measured by comparing it to what others perceive to be happiness. We each have our own challenges to overcome. We each have our own preferences in life. To be able to wake up each morning with a smile on our faces and joy in our hearts no matter what we are doing is success. That is happiness. That is the greatest gift I have ever received. That is the greatest gift we all can receive. 

While it took me a while to get there, I will always honor the memories of those who helped me discover who I am and the kind of person I want to be; the kind of happiness that is out there and that I will never stop striving for to achieve.

While many have given me these gifts in life, for this, I say with eternal love and respect. Thank you Brian Baldy for being a friend and crossing paths with me in life. Thank you for being a piece of my puzzle that helped make me a better man today. The only regret I have is that I wish I could have helped him in some way see the enormous love and respect so many had and continue to have for him. He will be sorely missed…

May he Rest In Peace.


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