Saying goodbye, and facing my own mortality.
Last week a high school friend passed away. He and I graduated in 1997 at Gonzaga College High School, an all male Jesuit Run preparatory school in Washington, DC. It sits behind The Capitol Building on Eye Street, NW, the first bricks being laid in 1815, originally opened as a place a “House of Novices” for the Jesuits; it later in 1821 it changed its course and became open to laymen.
Most of my closest friends today are friendships that I forged in the halls of Gonzaga, it teaches a classic education, with religion as part of its core curriculum. The greater lessons learned while at Gonzaga are unintended life lessons, which brew from the unique environment of being a single sex school, it’s dichotomy in location, sitting 4 blocks from Unions Station and The Capitol, while surrounded by an impoverished greater community where, many suburban young men see homelessness for the first time, but also from the core philosophy of the school.
Men For Others, an idea and principle which is so simple that it’s genius, which is why today in modern society I believe it is forgotten. If nothing else, a freshman who decides not to stay at Gonzaga will walk away with the idea that the world is a better place when we look at it as stewards, and that compassion for others is not a sign of weakness but a sign of human strength. This did not mean we gave money away to the first homeless person we saw, in fact we were instructed by the school that if we felt the need to help don’t give them money, but offer to buy them a meal, or hot cup of coffee, because there would be a high probability that person you were trying to help would use that money to further keep themselves in a state of helplessness.
The sports teams we played on were like a big fraternity, and the bond that was formed on and off the field is something that I don’t think you can replicate in a coed school, how can you, when you always have your guard up because of the opposite sex?
It is here that I met Darren my freshman in Father Lilly’s biology class. Father Lilly was straight out of some bad TV movie which portrays all Catholic Priests as archaic monsters who like to whip children. Imagine that character but with a bit of clumsy charm, he taught the only way he knew how. Memorize what I tell you, fuck the text book, and you’ll pass my class. This would have been great if we were studying philosophy or sociology, but he taught biology. To this day I have no idea why I learned about CORFU, but I assure you anyone who went to Gonzaga during his tenure will instantly connect CORFU with Father Lilly.
Darren was a hard guy not to notice, and not because he was asking for attention. He carried an ever-present ear to ear full face smile; he had the type of smile that when you saw it, you knew it was like a fingerprint, it was something he was born with. He always had something off the wall to say, which sometimes was very funny, and other times made you ask “What did he smoke this morning?”
We were of a smaller percentage of students who lived in Virginia, so we just sort of got along because a strange rivalry exists at Gonzaga, which is solely based on the state that you live in, I have had many arguments with classmates on why Maryland sucked ass, and Virginia was the best place in the world.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression Darren and I were friends, but not close friends. He lived in Fairfax, I lived in Southern Alexandria, but when you don’t have a car the divide might as well be the pacific. I think he carpooled in, and I took the metro, he played hockey and I played lacrosse, two facts which aren’t earth shattering, but they did mean we had very different schedules before and after school.
In such a small school after spending four years together, it’s hard not to develop friendships with almost everyone in your class. We became closer our senior year when we went on a two day retreat together and ended up in the same group It’s called Kairos, Juniors and Seniors are recommended to go on the retreat, but it isn’t required. I thought it something special to Gonzaga but later learned that many Jesuit school offer this program.
I could tell you more about what we did and talked about, but it’s a special time and place reserved for a specific time in our lives, and I think it would diminish what one gets out of it, if it’s spoken about, and I would also have to kill you…
Over the two days Darren, myself, and several other people who I can still name, spent almost every available minute together, by design it’s a chance to let your guard down completely. It’s also an introspective moment which is supposed to help mentally prepare us for the next few years of our lives which would disappear in an instant. I still recall being covered completely in thatches, and leaves from rolling down the side of a steep long hill, which we were told was a right of passage, but later found out it’s become a tradition based on a gag.
When you leave the retreat you walk away with a sense of empowerment that can only come from catharsis coupled with enlightenment. Walking away from this retreat you think to yourself I’m going to keep in touch with these guys for the rest of my life, the veil of youth preventing your eyes from seeing how life evolves.
After graduation I stayed in touch with Darren periodically, my youth being the BF days “Before Facebook”, so keeping in touch actually meant sending a letter, making a phone call, or shooting an e-mail. When I started using facebook we friended each other, and stalked each others pages as you do with people you lose touch with, and even talked about possibly getting together at some point.
His last message to me in August was simply “lou”, I ignored it, as I do sometimes, and regret not responding to him.
So fast forward to last night.
Gustavo, a close friend of mine who was in the same Kairos group as Darren, and me drove to Fairfax to the viewing. I showed up late, and found Gustavo in a corner, trying to pick out anyone he knew.
We stood around feeling like interlopers, especially because it had been years since we saw Darren, and made our way into the main room where a couple of televisions played a montage of videos of Darren, his family, and friends. Gustavo made such a great observation which I think embodies who he was…the guy was passionate. He’s the kind of guy when he was interested in something jump full board into it; whether it was cars, hockey, or motorcycles, if he liked it he loved it.
I always knew he had a close group of friends from his neighborhood, it was clear last night that his passion extended to those he loved. What in High School could have been mistaken for being wild, or out of control was actually the seeds of a passionate man.
Gustavo and I had a few awkward conversations with Darren’s wife, and his Father…it was awkward because we had never met, and the context of the meeting was difficult to say the least. His wife is a very strong woman. After being married only for a year to lose your husband, love, and future can’t be an easy thing, so to see her in this room full of people being strong for others was a feat of human strength. In talking with his wife we learned that the special feeling we had about Kairos was felt by Darren. When she talked about it, it was almost as if she could have recalled the events of those two days herself.
The conversation we had with Darren’s father was a bit less awkward, only because his father really engaged us about Gonzaga. He talked about Darren came home from school one day and was amazed that there were people without homes, and not everyone gets to live in a nice house. His father also talked about Darren’s summer service trip to Camden New Jersey, and how it impacted Darren for the rest of his life.
After speaking with his wife, and father we walked up to the casket to say goodbye. The two of us stood there, looking at him, neither one of us said a thing. I don’t think we knew what to say or how to handle it.
A part of me felt like he was going to pop us, and say it was all a joke, and start to break into his unforgettable laughter. We turned walked away, and didn’t know what to say to each other.
Gustavo and I made plans to have dinner near my place, and the drive back I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I kept asking myself questions about odd things like, did Darren have a life insurance policy, how is his mom taking it, how is his wife going to handle the next few months, and what if that were me?
At dinner we didn’t talk much about Darren, more about Fantasy Football, and talked shit about our other close friends. I think we both were thinking about our own mortality.
Steve Jobs once said that he would wake up every morning and look at himself in the mirror, and ask himself if I died today would I happy with how I spent my day, and he said when too many of those days are strung together that it was time to make a change.
This morning I started to ask myself that question.
I don’t have an answer…
Sunday evening I went to the 5:00 PM Crossfit class at Patriot. There were a lot more people there than I anticipated, it was taught by Jon who taught last weeks 6:00 PM class, and is good at teaching the Olympic lifts, so I was actually happy to see the guy because I knew you would give me at least one new insight into the Snatch Balance.
The WoD was to 7 sets of 2 Snatch Balances, and then the Metcon was a 9-6-3, of doing Clean and Jerks, Overhead Squats and Renegades (9-6-3 being the downward progression of the reps).
Here is video of a few Snatch Balances.
During the Metcon I was stuck working with the 30 lbs dumbbells, I wanted to find a lighter one but the lightest available after I got to the rack was 15 lbs, so I stayed with the 30 lbs. My rational was that if I worked with a lighter weight I could do stricter push-ups, it turns out I was wrong. After the first round of Clean and Jerks (or in my case Clean to Push-Presses), and Overhead Squats I found that my chest was surprisingly sore, so I ended up doing bullshit knee push-ups.
I suck at running, cleans, push-ups, and pulls ups, the last two I can’t say I suck at because I can’t do them at all, fuck my fat ass. Here is the Video.
I woke up this morning ready for another WoD, so I headed to Patriot Crossfit at 5:30 AM to warm-up and stretch for the 6:00 AM class. Potomac which I could spit on from the top of my building has a 5:30 AM, or a 6:30 AM, I like to get up an hour before I workout so the 5:30 AM is hard because I don’t want to get up at 4:30 AM everyday. I am for now going to continue my mornings at Patriot.
Monday being Squat day, I wasn’t looking forward to doing heavy weights because I was still a bit sore from the night before, it turned out that today’s area of focus was on speed and power, so we ended up doing something different which was to pick a weight which was about 60% of your 1 rep max, and then do 2 reps every minute on the minute.
This is what it looked like.
At the end of the squats we moved onto the Metcon which involved doing 5 dead lifts, followed by 50 double unders, or 100 single unders if you are big mess like me, 5 dead lifts, followed by 10 burpees, and 5 more dead lifts and a run around the building about 200 meters.
It was a short Metcon but in my mind it felt longer than it actually was, my dead lift form broke down a bit on the last set, but I was happy with my time, 4:43. The dead lift weight was supposed to be 275 but I did it at 245 lbs.
Beware of the video below, younger viewers maybe forever traumatized by my manboobage popping up and down.