I’ve gotten really good at alone. I travel well alone. I eat dinner in restaurants well alone. I cook for one really well. I’m rarely lonely. There are a few moments though that can make me feel so far from home. They’re fleeting, but they make my heart ache just a little bit. Today, I’m in Indianapolis Indiana, which is one of the great crossroads of America. I originally came here for one reason, to see an old friend. We made the most of it and now Indianapolis has become one of the featured sites in my journal series. I’ve learned a lot about this history of the city and the hospitality of its people in the last couple of days.
But what’s been the most fun is to see what has become of this old friend of mine. I realized, in spending time with his group that he wears a completely different hat, or more accurately different uniform, than the man I knew. I know him in a way that none of the people I met around him do. And I don’t mean that, in the slightest, in a lewd intimate way. Simply that when our paths previously crossed, we were both at very different places in our lives and our careers.
We were both at the young start of careers in emergency medicine and we had no greater concern than the patient in front of us, the partner beside us and the condition of the rig the off-going crew had left us. Now, he’s gone from being a hands dirty, boots scuffed street medic, and a remarkably talented one at that, to a suit and shoe polish and black Mercedes big wig with an office with a view. We could only see each other for a few precious minutes between him flying back into town and dashing off to a board meeting. But we marveled at the course each of our lives have taken.
I asked him, pointedly, how exactly he got to this place and he walked me through his journey. And I felt myself overwhelmed with pride in him. Pride, not only stemming from the very special place where we both cut our medic teeth, but also pride in the way he’s educated himself and revolutionized his personal and organizational professionalism and the absolute joy he gets from what he does. He has a passion that I, for now, can’t seem to find in my own work. Hence this trip.
Then it was my turn to tell him my story. Of loves and losses, of travels and starting overs, of my minimalist lifestyle and joy for dancing and performing, and ofthis new writing thing. And I think he was, in his own turn, as surprised at the course my own life has taken.
The last time we saw each other was at a funeral for one of our dear friends and one of the greatest men who’s ever lived. He and his pilot and partner were killed in the line of duty when their helicopter went down on a nighttime drill in the desert sands of New Mexico. It was the second fatal accident my friend and I had been connected to. And it was devastating. I expressed to him that on the morning I recieved that phone call, I felt so unbelievably far from home, farther than I’d ever been before or since. He felt the same. And it has colored both of us. It always will. It’s frankly part of why I go the places I want to go and do the things I feel compelled to do, when I can. We’d always known, through our work, that life was fleeting, but now it was tangibly and terrifyingly so.
Before he left, we hugged and said I love you, which we also learned to do after the crash, and I told him that I wish, just for a second, I could let his staff see him through my eyes, for the great medic, the great mentor and the great personal friend he was then. He’s still those things, they just see it wrapped up in a suit instead of on his belly in a puddle of vomit with a laryngoscope blade down someone’s throat or humping an inch and half hoseline through the heat and smoke or snoring in the bunkroom or teaching the kindergarteners how to Stop Drop and Roll. Those are the things we did together. Now we do different things, but we’re not really different people.
As we part ways and I find myself alone on the streets of Indianapolis, I have a momentary emptyness in my heart and in my belly. Because, in driving away from him, I’m driving away from a whole group of people and memories that he represents. It’s brief and then it’s gone. Because I realize, in actuality, I’m driving to them, to those people. It’ll just take me a little while to get there. And that place, those people, have always and will always be waiting for me. It doesn’t matter how far I go or where I am, all my friends are with me.
If there’s someone you haven’t seen, that you want to see, go to them. Just go. While you can. If there’s some place you have to see, go to it. Just go. If there’s something you need to do, go do it. Just go. You can always come back.
Robin Behl, La Cuentista