Locating the middle
I’ve met four people for coffee in the last week - make that five if you count the friend I meet online for morning coffee multiple days a week.
On average I’ve known them between thirty-five and forty years.
Yesterday I had coffee with my friend Matt.
Actually, his name isn’t Matt but that’s a long story.
He calls me Fudge - that’s a longer story.
I think of him every year on my parents’ anniversary.
I know that that seems odd until I tell you that his birthday falls on my parents’ anniversary.
Matt and I worked with each other in radio in the mid-80s at what was called an Urban Contemporary Radio station. I worked several shifts but for quite a while he was the morning man and I did the news and a little side-kicking.
One of my favorite memories was when he got laryngitis one winter and I filled in for him in the mornings. I stopped by his house on the way home and his youngest daughter opened the door and greeted me in a whisper. She’d decided that if her dad couldn’t talk without whispering, she wouldn’t talk without whispering either.
At one point I moved to evenings and then I was offered a job at Majic - yes they spelled it with a “J” because the call letters “WMJI” were available. That format was Adult Contemporary - which meant soft rock and oldies - and I moved over there.
Matt and I kept in touch for years. He started selling insurance - I started teaching math. He and his family came to our wedding - but at some point we lost track of each other.
And still every year I would think of him on my parents’ anniversary.
At some point I didn’t call him on his birthday.
And then I didn’t call him the next year.
And then I was so embarrassed for not calling him that I didn’t call him any year.
Of course I see how dumb that is.
One morning after our shift I thought we’d had a terrible show.
Matt said, listen to the tape.
At that time, radio stations had an air check machine that would start recording when you turned the microphone on and stop when you turned the microphone off. It allowed the air personality or their boss to listen to a four hour show in fifteen to twenty minutes.
So Matt handed me the tape and told me to listen to it. He told me that I would find out it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was.
That made me feel better until he added that on days that I thought we’d had a great show, I should listen to the tape and I’d see that it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was.
Mostly, we are how we are.
Over time we can get better. Also, over time we can get worse. But usually we are how we are.
There’s a stasis of quality that we have to work hard at to improve over time.
I’ve found that if we don’t work to improve it we don’t even hold steady.
Work to improve or your performance gets worse.
In the years since I lost touch with Matt, he’d become a Pastor of a Church.
My friend Mark, who is also a Pastor of a Church, had spotted Matt and directed me to the Church’s website.
This year I decided it was time to get better. On Matt’s birthday I reached out and sent him an email suggesting we get together.
He responded immediately agreeing that we should.
Can I tell you - it was like no time had passed.
It had probably been nearly twenty years since we saw each other.
He has grandchildren as old as I was when we first met.
If you know me you know that I’m not religious at all.
But I do like a good sermon.
Most Sundays I tune in to hear Mark’s sermon.
This past week it focused on simple things.
There was the religious aspect and the lessons and Mark is a masterful storyteller - but at one point he pulled back and told a story of walking through his neighborhood this past weekend. His walk took him by a man who was cutting his grass.
Mark saw the neighbor, he heard the mower, and he smelled the freshly cut grass.
Mark lost much of his sense of smell and taste six months ago.
Smelling the grass was no small thing.
Sometimes we forget that the small things aren’t small things.
Monday I sat in a coffee house with a friend I hadn’t seen in decades. Filling in the time since we’d last seen each other and reliving the times we’d enjoyed together.
In the more than two hours we were together, neither one of us looked at his phone.
We didn’t check Twitter, FaceBook, email, texts - not even the amber alert that sounded on both of our phones.
Such a small thing. We just sat and talked and time disappeared.
If you listen to the tape, it wasn’t a great conversation, it wasn’t a bad conversation, it was pretty much the same as every conversation we’d ever had.
A small, ordinary conversation between friends that was neither small nor ordinary.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 68. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe