Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A note from Arby... (A few days late)

A couple of years ago I wrote about an old friend from high school who lost a fourteen year old son when the young man huffed gasoline, lit a cigarette, and died from the resulting fire. He was a real-life Darwin Award winner, not just an anonymous paragraph about someone we do not know, in a city we've never visited, with no emotional investment in the victim. I have to admit that when a thirty year old man straps the engine from an F-18 Hornet to the trunk of his 1972 Ford Pinto and ignites the engine on a lonely stretch of Arizona Interstate, I can only shake my head and laugh when the highway turns and his car doesn't. I have a Roadrunner verses Wiley E. Coyote cartoon image of three hundred feet of burnt parallel tire tracks, an empty stretch of air space, and a charred impact crater on a rock wall with the only identifiable remains of the car or driver being a perfectly in-tact license plate reading "RCKTMN" embedded in the cliff face. I shouldn't be that way, especially knowing how I still feel about my friend's son. The only qualifier that I can offer is that I see a huge difference between a grown man acting in such an incredibly stupid manner and a young boy doing the same.

When the phone rang during dinner the other night, I wasn't expecting to hear my old friend's voice. I knew in an instant that this call wasn't good news. He was okay, and so were the members of his family, but a mutual friend was not. He still isn't.

I wrote about Mike when I told the story of my trip to Nashville for a close-casket funeral. Mike is an old friend from Chicago, a man I hadn't seen in 12 years. He met me at the airport so that we could travel to the funeral together. In an incident that perfectly captured Mike's take-no-prisoners approach towards life, I wrote of his attempts to rent a large, four-door sedan from a car rental agency. Mike prefers sedans. He was also aware that he'd be driving three adults, so he wanted a large, comfortable car. The car rental agent offered anything and everything other than what Mike reserved, from a compact car to a cargo van. He settled for a Cadillac Escalade SUV, the only car the agency had in their luxury class. After unsuccessfully arguing that the vehicle was a f$%&*g truck ("Ah, sir, but it is a Cadillac," the agent explained. "Alright, its' a Cadillac truck, "Mike replied. I'll have to repost the original story.) Mike paid for full coverage insurance and promptly asked for directions to the nearest retaining wall. "This thing's coming back on a f$%&*g hook," he told the disbelieving clerk.

That's Mike.

He chain smoked the entire time we were together, drank heavily, slept very little, paid for the car, the hotel, and the gas and never batted an eyelash at the cost.

That's Mike too.

Mike used to be chiseled. I watched him pick up my ex-wife's antique couch (much to her dismay) by one end and carry it unassisted, sticking straight out in front of him, up a spiral staircase in an apartment building in Berwyn, IL. He left the task and headed to the local college to perform in a play. He was equally comfortable singing and dancing on stage and installing kitchens and baths for his father's company.

Do not assume by this point in my tale that I am writing an obituary. I'm not. At least, not yet. My friend is lying in a hospital on the east coast. He's in a coma, on dialysis, and recovering from two surgeries on blood clots. Mike collapsed in his apartment and lay on the floor for three days before he was found. As of this writing the doctors do not know why.

I have my suspicions.

An unhappy man with some genuinely difficult and damaging issues to deal with, Mike chose twenty years of hard drinking and drifting from one failed relationship to the next in order to escape his pain. It all caught up with him. I look upon my friend with a deep seated mixture of sadness and compassion. I am sad for the events of his life, the choices he's made as an adult, and the fact that he is not in a state of Grace while he is so near death. When I had an opportunity to share the love of Christ with this virulently anti-Christian man, I was unequipped and unprepared to speak. Now that I know what I want to say, I may not have the opportunity. I do not want to lose my unsaved friend, as I know what the Bible tells me will be his fate, but I continue to hope that God's ability to forgive is greater than the Word that we have been given to read. That may be wrong, and for a great number of reasons, but look who is writing it. The sadness of an old friend's self-destruction haunts me as strongly as a young man's passing.

So, when an accident victim tells the police that the reason he drove his pick-up truck 65 mph off of a bridge that was under construction was because, "I saw the sign that said 'ROAD CLOSED' but I didn't believe it," I have to laugh. If I didn't, I'd cry.


Linda said...

Oh Arby, I am so sorry for Mike. I will pray that the Lord will spare Mike's life, if only so that you will have another opportunity to share the life-changing love of Christ with Him. And even though you may not have shared perfectly with Him in the past, it is very possible that Mike heard EXACTLY what she needed to hear and that he has (or will) submit to the grace freely offered him! Keep looking up, my friend!

Kathleen said...

Awww, Arby. Praying for Mike. And for you as you take it all in and process...hoping you will have that chance to talk to him.

Anonymous said...

OH wow. I will keep your friend in my thoughts and prayers.

Brownie said...

I agree with Linda. We are always witnesses no matter how silent we are. Thanks for sharing this and for the reminder to not be so silent. I don't know what else to say -

CrossView said...

Sadly, I understand gallows humor all too well.

I'm sorry about your friend.