“You can never tell a book by its cover.” Lester Fuller
Today word came of the death of a high school friend.
Knowing Jimmy Mac in high school, it would have been easy to believe the kid was a happy-go-lucky jock…not too serious, not too bright, not too introspective. A popular athlete who was talented in his sport, Jimmy dated the popular girls. He seemed to have the high school life many dream of.
Off to college, two failed marriages, no children, a difficult relationship with his father…Jimmy ended up working as a security guard for another high school friend, living as a roommate with a third friend from our days in Midland, Texas. This is not the stuff of dreams.
We reconnected at our 45th high school reunion.
When I first saw Jimmy Mac, he was standing alone, looking around as we all came to the country club and got names tags, hugs and kisses from old classmates. I didn’t recognize him. He was heavy, missing some teeth, walked with a pronounced limp, had a sadness – maybe wistfulness – about his eyes that bore no trace of the 17 year-old super star.
I felt such sadness for him. I probably felt sorry for him (and I do champion the underdog) so he and I spent a lot of time that reunion weekend talking. I found him to be quite thoughtful as I learned the details of his life since we graduated high school and went our separate ways. I learned of his health problems…diabetes, dropped foot, a possible loss of that foot. I watched him drink too much for anyone who is struggling with blood sugar regulation. I listened to him tell me that he came to the reunion to see his old girlfriend, have one last dance with her, and that he felt his life would have been so different if only he had followed her to The University of Texas instead of going to Texas Tech.
Whether his assessment of his potential for a happy life was true or not, he appeared to be resigned to aloneness and loss.
After the reunion, he asked me out a few times. I had recently divorced and we both lived in Dallas. I was a little embarrassed to be seen with him, if I am totally honest, because he looked the way he did. I felt he was looking for a lifeline, needed someone to care for him, about him, in a way I was not able to do…for him or for anyone at that stage in my life.
We corresponded as he moved from Dallas. His boy/men friends from Midland planned a mini-reunion at a lake house once word of his failing health reached all of us. He lost his leg below the knee and wrote eloquent emails about his life that showed a depth of thought and spirit that I could never have imagined in him back in those high school days.
Recently he had another surgery to remove that same leg above the knee and a third to try to stem an infection that didn’t respond to medicine. I sent a card to the hospital right before Easter once I heard of his plight. I never heard from him, but I knew he knew I was thinking about him as were so many of his classmates.
My heart is heavy. I grieve for the life Jimmy Mac wasn’t able to create. I am grateful for the friends he had to the very end: men who would have done and did do all they could to ease his journey…women who got the word out to all of us about his condition and how to reach out to him. I am so sad for their loss. I feel lucky to have been allowed to see a side of Jimmy that was not presented during those angst-filled teenage years and to be able to present a side of me that wasn’t visible back then either.
I am chagrined to acknowledge at this age and stage in my personal growth that I could have been embarrassed by the physical appearance of someone. How shallow.
I am thankful that he and I were able to connect on a level that might not have been possible had he come to that reunion looking like I would have expected him to look. There was something in his frailty that drew me to him…what a contradictory set of emotions he created in me.
It’s not often we get to set straight a mis-conception we have about a person or a situation. When we make judgments, we always run the risk of being incorrect. More importantly, we risk missing out on the richness another person can bring to our lives. And we are never too old or think we are so enlightened that we can’t be taught a thing or two about ourselves and the value of a connection to another human being.
“Real magic in relationships means an absence of judgement of others.” Wayne Dyer