There is a war raging, and I am veteran of multiple tours.
As I continue to move down range I notice more and more of my comrades felled by the invisible, relentless, insurgent enemy that is time. Each time this happens it leaves me with a sense of being exposed or uncovered. I need my colleagues to buoy my façade of bravery. Marching forward is always easier in a crowd. Real bravery is charging ahead even when others won’t or can’t. Add in the melancholy that comes with losing compatriots that have helped get me through my battles and life at times can seem a lonely affair, even in a crowd.
When friends die, for whatever reason it reminds me that life is a little like walking through a mine field. In my early years I danced a jig in the mine field, played hacky sack in the mine field, I ran with scissors through that mine field. Like juggling with bowie knives I dared death, thinking it a no lose situation: If I died young I’d have that fantastic James Dean legacy: ‘live fast, die young’, and if I survived, at least I had fun in the early laps and cheated death in the bargain. ‘Later’ could deal with itself.
Youthful ignorance is the cocoon that shielded me from the cold reality that if I survived that ‘dancing in the mine field’ period I would have to pony up for those long past-due bills that come from abusing the body (the mind, friends, and family). In those days it never occurred to me that there was more to know than all I knew. I thought I knew it all.
A few safety alarms went off, but I ruthlessly ignored them; A few young and wild co-conspirators were felled early by drug overdose or suicide (cirrhosis of the liver, is that suicide?) and then there was that early harvest referred to as Viet Nam. Somehow, I stumbled through the minefield unscathed. Whether by luck or divine intervention, somehow I did not just devolve into some old stoner with a gray pony tail and bad teeth. Sure if I had it to do over again I’d …. well, you’ll never know.
But now, as I trudge down range through the mud, across the flowery fields, over the mountains, and across the creeks that are the landscape of aging, every so often a mortar falls and takes out a friend. Even the loss of friends that don’t go back to that ‘dancing in the mine field’ period is felt acutely. Friendship can be hard to come by and its loss cuts deep.
I knew Bob Magyar but not as a close friend. He was a compatriot, someone who would have volunteered to come to my aid if I were in need and asked for his assistance.
Like me, Bob was a back-of-the-packer, never fast or slow, but ever steady. His life was proof that you need not look only to those at the front of the pack for inspiration. He helped me early on in my rando career to better appreciate the nobility of perseverance. This gift, these gentle lessons by example will stay with me as I contine my march down range. He's no longer marching or riding along side, though he will be missed he will not soon be forgotten.
He suffered in silence over the last year and a half, I had no idea of his plight, and in fact aside from prayers and emotional support there is little I could have done to help him in his private battle.
So now the ranks are once again thinned and I, and the rest of us are just that bit more exposed. We have one less stalwart fellow traveler. In his passing we can take some comfort in recalling Bob's wry wit, his depth of knowledge, and willingness to share. This example of a life well lived inspires and torments: felled not as a result of careless dancing in the mine field, but just another inexplicable casualty.
Thanks, Bob for the camaraderie and for the timeless reminder that, though the road may turn up and the weather may come straight ahead, how I deal with these challenges is my choice. I will try to always remember that unique mix of understated humor and steadfast commitment that kept you going when others may have pulled to the side of the road.