Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Strange Encounter with an Old Friend

Forty years ago I was an English professor at West Point when I learned that someone I once knew would be buried with honors in the West Point cemetery. He was the man who, 15 years before, had pinned my Eagle Scout medal on me. I remembered him as a tall, distinguished, handsome man who resembled General Robert E. Lee.

This old graduate was being laid to rest, and I wanted to be there to honor him. It was a cold, rainy day. Present there was his son, who was my age - a former junior high classmate. My family had moved away, and I hadn't seen or heard anything about him in those 15 years. He had grown up to be as tall as his father.

After the ceremony, I went up to my old friend to express my condolences. When he didn't recognize me, I told him who I was. He said he didn't remember me.

Yes, a fair amount of water had passed under the bridge since we were boys. For my part, I had finished high school overseas, attended West Point, survived the Army Ranger School, commanded a HAWK missile battery in Germany and a mobile advisory team in Vietnam, earned degrees at Duke University and was now teaching English at the military academy his father had once attended. I assumed that my friend's separate journey must have been as busy as mine, but in ways unknown to me.

Still, I was shocked that he didn't remember me. But there it was, the reality that everything that had happened to him had pushed memories of me aside. I wished this "stranger" well and left.

Forty years beyond that surprise encounter, I still think about it - a dramatic example of the "membrane of separateness" I've written about, the fact that our personal experience can never be completely known to another and that even though we have family, friends and acquaintances, we walk our life journey essentially alone.

This isn't a morose sentiment. It just is what it is. Most people abhor the feeling of being alone, and to a degree we penetrate this separateness by sharing stories of our lives with each other.

As I share this story with you now.

Now, forty years later, I wonder what happened to my old friend, the one who had forgotten who I was. When I searched the web thoroughly I found nothing, nothing at all. And so apparently his separate journey will remain a mystery to me.

Maybe, in fact, his journey has already reached its end.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

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