This is my young old buddy Chris as I first knew him, in 1986 at Pearson College in Victoria, BC where we were students. We were both representing our rather ordinary origins – he was from Oregon, I was from Ontario – among a group of the brightest and best scholars from around the world.
Chris was a loud, charming, rude, energetic, caring, blunt, thoughtful, compassionate, bright, dynamic, engaged, hopeful, cynical blond-haired grinning American golden boy. We made friends quickly, and he would be my friend for a quarter of a century.
Our community was intense. We spent two school years in a crucible, forming fast friendships with folks who would soon be far-flung, to live out their lives in the wide world. In those two years we lived lifetimes; to tell the stories of our times together would be a long journey into the heart of all our hearts.
That bonding experience would keep us close, and the theory was that this would help bring peace to the world. No one really knew how hard it would be for many to find peace in their own lives, but such is the quest of those who would make peace. We know that now.
Like so many friends from the Pearson College community, Chris had love in his heart big enough to span the geography that kept our close group of friends apart, often for what seemed unfairly long periods of time. Stranded in our separate countries, desperate for the feeling of true togetherness, a couple or a few of us would manage to meet somehow, often having made impossible journeys to see one another under the most outlandish circumstances.
I took a bus for three days once, from Minnesota to Oregon. Another time I wound up hitchhiking from Italy to Wales. A bunch of us spent three days on a train and two days on a bus to get to the Mexican coast from Victoria, and then we did the return trip just a week later. Seven friends spent a week holed up in a ski cabin on Mount Hood, and Chris was the man who made it happen. He’d sometimes drive from Portland to Vancouver to spend a day, and then drive back again.
It was all a test: of friendship, and of the strength of character it takes to keep love alive. Chris was ablaze with love. He lit the fire we formed among us. In our circle Chris was the one who taught us to say “These are the good old days!”, usually as we were drinking too much and falling into the late night affection of boozy friends. But he was right, and I’ve carried that with me beyond my drinking days.
These are still the good old days, and I frequently echo that statement of his like a prayer of gratitude. Even in these difficult days. Especially in these difficult days.
I don’t know if Chris ever found days as good as those old ones. I hope and pray that he did, because it’s no joy to move through life thinking your best times are behind you. In the gaps between our visits, he had major struggles to deal with. We friends from too far away could only guess what he was really going through, and it was difficult to reach out effectively by the weak links of phone and email.
I shudder to imagine the fear and loneliness and loss Chris faced in his personal journey. It must have been overwhelming.
Back then, all those long years ago, I used to say Chris was golden. His boyish energy, his broad American good-hearted grin stood for a way of living and being that was perpetually youthful and fun.
Gold doesn’t tarnish. But gold is the colour of the spirit. The body is a mere mortal thing. The body’s life is limited, and Chris reached his limit a short while ago.
Twenty-five years ago we met, and for twenty-three of those years we were mostly apart. In that time it was the stories and the memories that kept us together across time and space. The pottery shed at Pearson College. The tower of Pisa. The slopes of Mount Washington. The bus to Zijuatenejo. My parents’ backyard in Barrie. The highway north from Portland.
A boy, a youth, a man. Running across the pool cover, pretending to be Jesus. Wandering around on Grouse Mountain with a bag of dogshit in one hand and a hot dog in the other. Trying to light a campfire with two chunks of wood and a chocolate bar wrapper. Asking in broken Italian for permission to sleep in the garden in Milan, or was it Florence?
Giving up on cross-country skiing to spend the day drinking vodka and pink lemonade, just Chris and me on the tin roof of the old ski cabin, smoking Colt cigars and soaking up the late winter sun…
Those were the good old days.
Thank God we’ve still got those. And they are golden.
I love you man. RIP.