“The pain I feel now is the happiness that I had before. That’s the deal”
– C.S. Lewis
I must have been around 6 years old when I met my friend David. The movie that in my mind of my first memories with him feels clear. We sat on a bench outside in the schoolyard on a crisp, autumn afternoon in Denver, waiting for my mom to pick us up. I was excited because my new friend was coming over to my house. The golden afternoon light accentuated the orange stripes on David’s Chicago Bears jacket and matching winter hat. His small frame was hidden inside the jacket that was about three sizes too large. Those images of us on the bench are what my mind has held onto as a beginning.
I don’t remember the exact moment that I met David. Kids don’t meet each other like adults do. There aren’t introductions so much as there are gravitations. They can sense things about each other almost as if they’re using magical powers. To children, magic might as well be real. Now as an adult, magic, and even more scientific terms like telepathy are restricted to fictional books and movies. Still, it feels like there was some magic there on the bench as those two kids sat, waiting for the friendship that was to come.
On the heels of that first image follows an avalanche of memories: Birthday hats, sleep-overs, and snowball fights. Soccer games, summer camps, and an endless number of made-up sports. Throwing rocks at stuff and falling off of things. Swimming pools and dirt bikes. Juice boxes, hot dogs, and facefuls of watermelon. Adventures in dangerous places and safe places made dangerous. Yelling and getting yelled at. Basketball courts enhanced with trampolines, bruises, and bandaids. Rollerblades, homemade ramps, and more blood. Spoon-catapults and bits of pasta stuck to the ceiling, testaments of pure fun. Laughing, laughing, and more laughing.
Man, did we have fun. We were two kids driven by silliness and laughter intent on maximizing the enjoyment of life, especially all of its nonsense. There are so many memories. Some of the strongest ones come from shared experiences at a summer camp up in the mountains adjacent to Denver. It was run by a visionary woman and educator who built an environment that bred creativity in its wildest, most natural forms. Both David and I were fortunate enough to have grown up there, spending summers as young campers and then, later gaining our first hints of responsibility as counselors, in charge of other children. As we got older, we found more sophisticated ways to be ridiculous and create fun for ourselves and everyone who surrounded us. We tested limits, to see how far we could take the pure enjoyment of life. We crossed a few lines along the way. More pictures flow through my mind of those times. We orchestrated epic water fights and challenged each other to see who could make the children around us laugh more. There were endless basketball games on un an improvised court in the forest, the rim and backboard nailed to a tree. Once, we thought it would be hilarious to paint lightning bolts on a pony. We were right. It was absolutely hilarious.
I was a year older than David. After third grade, we went to different schools. We had our own groups of friends. As a parent now I can see how our own parents coaxed our friendship and provided support by creating the space and time for us to experience and grow together. Despite any length of time apart that may have passed, every single time that our paths crossed, that electric sense of fun was never far off. We always found new things to bond over and laugh about. It was as if, almost telepathically, we always knew how to pick up the beat of our friendship at any moment.
David became Dave and I grew out of Michael into Mike. We each discovered tons of our own, different passions. Eventually, our lives reached the moments where we both said goodbye to Denver. By the time that we began creating our own families Dave’s spectacular trajectory had already included an academic scholarship to a top school in the east coast followed by a career as a professional athlete. More recently, he was evolving into a coach, inspiring more young people. My own path led me far, far away to a life abroad. As adults we didn’t get to see each other much as is the case for many friendships of youth. The last time I saw Dave, I was visiting my parents in Denver over the holidays with my wife and son (my daughter, yet to be born). He was also in town and made the effort to stop by for a brief visit. I could see that he and his wife had their hands full with two boys (their daughter, also yet to be born). We did our best to catch up in the few moments that we had but our attention was mostly on our sons and trying to get them to play together. It went unsaid, but I know that we were both thinking about the potential fun that these kids could have together and how to make it happen.
My stories with Dave are ones that I’ll hold onto for as long as I live. My story with Dave is an amazing one. But there’s something that’s far more amazing about Dave. It’s something that I cannot explain. If you ask any one of the thousands (yes, thousands) of people who considered Dave to be a friend, their story, especially the connection they felt with him, will sound a lot like mine. Dave had a superhuman capacity to connect with people. The way that he made every friend feel like they were his best friend was other-worldly. Thinking about him now I can’t help but wonder. Maybe, as a 6-year-old on that cool, autumn day in 1986, I still knew about magic and I recognized it as it sat next to me, wrapped in a Chicago Bears jacket.