Yesterday, in preparation for this time of sharing, I sat at my desk sifting through some 12 years of memories trying to pull a few meaningful paragraphs together. I found myself staring at the wall. My mind had gone mute, with only what seemed to be silent films of the past several years faintly rolling through my frontal lobe. The week had been a long and exhausting culmination of three increasingly difficult years.
Since Kris' passing on Monday, I've read hundreds of comments, anecdotes and messages about Kris' lively spirit, caring heart and inspirational mental toughness. While I love to read all of these things about my friend whom I've often thought of as my personal Butch Cassidy, these are not the things that caused Kris and I to grow as close as we did. Our friendship actually blossomed out of our mutual frustrations with life. We were roommates for the first time during our sophomore year at Valparaiso University. Kris was navigating a lot of personal turbulence in those days, and I was dealing with some things that caused me to feel like I was in a flat spin heading out to sea. All at the ripe age of 18 years old.
Our ability to intensely (some would call it violently) talk with one another about the things we were dealing with, and come to trust each other with such personal and private emotions and issues, not only grew us closer on a brotherly level, but allowed us to lean on each other during the dark times so that neither of us had to sleep with our heads in the mud. Each of us needed to be heard, and each of us needed someone to understand him at that time -- and the timing of our assignment as roommates couldn't have been more perfect. It was a God-thing – a divine appointment - that would prove itself and come to full fruition ten years later.
Over the years, communication between Kris and I became more seamless. We could pick up on each other's body language and understand each other by reading simple facial expressions. We could express vast ideas through a few simple anecdotes. This became more and more invaluable as Kris began losing control, first over his body and, then, over his ability to communicate/speak clearly.
I feel blessed to have had some of the conversations I had with Kris. We discussed things I've hardly had the opportunity to discuss with anyone else: deep, confusing, terrifying things. One of our last great epiphanies after a day of conversation, beers, and tears, involved uncovering what we felt was the most important part of our time here on earth. We came to agree that only one thing in this world pays back dividends when you're gone. That's the relationships we have with other people. People are the most important thing. We also came to the realization that though many people may say they believe this, few actually live it.
You see, it's become so simple to communicate with people in very abbreviated, very matter of fact, very impersonal ways. Yes, no. Up, down. Left, right. Too often we feed each other this controlled commentary of our lives rather than dare to engage in genuine intimacy. Too often, we switch our ears to passive intake and think, "Oh, it's not my business," or "It's not my problem…"
The ability to communicate and connect with and care about other humans beings is a gift – one that Kris fought to hold onto and employ until the very end. I can think of no greater tribute to the life of my friend than to do the same.