Day 492: An old friend.

Increasingly my idle moments have shifted from what will be to what has been. This evening, for no particular reason, Alan, a dorm-mate from my college days, popped into my mind. He was a fellow math major, wiry frame, short hair, and part of the ROTC program at school. We’d occasionally pass time chucking a football at each other as hard as we could to see whose hands would give out first. It was a test of wills. He’d stand there with a funny little grin, wind up, and throw a bullet at my gut. I’d catch it, do my best to not let the stinging in my hands show on my face, and return the favor.

He once beat me at a game of chess and announced, “You’re not such a much.” Funny that those words come back to me now. He must have seen me as a challenge. What slow-witted clerk in my brain took forty-five years to figure that out?

While I was cutting classes to work on personal software projects Alan was doing his homework, polishing his soldier boots, and playing by the rules. I haven’t had any contact with him since I dropped out. Over the years, if I thought about him at all, I assumed he had a brilliant military career, probably made General while I was struggling with one of my computer ventures. Now I suppose he’s on a veteran’s pension, teaching his grandchildren to fly-fish in some mountain stream in Ohio.

Curious, I Google his name. 2100 results. One says he was an Eagle Scout, on a debate team, graduated Carnegie with a BS in math, and he gave his life to his country. 

Gave his life? My screen says he’s dead. I look again. I have the right Alan. Dead. In my mind he’s still twenty years old, ready to fling a football at me with that funny little grin. Dead.

When did he die? The screen says two years after graduation. Two years? The blink of an eye. Two years and gone. No grandkids, no kids, no wife, no life.

Gave his life? Gave? Alan and I were only casual friends. We didn’t confide in each other. I certainly don’t know exactly how he lost his life. But I’m pretty sure it was probably not something he gave willingly any more than the thousands of Reservists who thought they were giving a weekend a month to parade around a field and instead had their lives taken in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Gave his life for his country? More like His country took his life.

friendI know that families suffering that kind of loss need to find purpose in the tragedy. It’s why Uncle Sam calls every fallen soldier a hero. It’s not that heroes don’t exist. Some guys throw themselves on grenades to save their buddies. But surely most just happen to be in the wrong place. I don’t think Alan gave anything. I think his life was taken by the arms peddlers and profiteers and politicians shouting War! to raise money for reelection. And I don’t see a few pennies per share justifying Alan’s early departure.

I go to bed early, saddened by a forty-five year old loss I didn’t know about until ten minutes ago. What other bad news does Google have for me?

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