To continue with the river theme, here’s a song I’ve been listening to lately. Whenever I hear it I think of my friend Andy, and sometimes when I’m thinking of him I put it on. He was killed six years ago; the anniversary of his death was last week. He was a police officer, and he was responding to a domestic disturbance at a club when he was killed.
Andy attended the same Christian high school as I did. We went off to Christian college together as roommates. Yes, it was confusing when we got phone calls, but most people called us by our last names. We did a lot of hiking on and around campus, as well as in nearby Tallulah Gorge. One time we were down in the Gorge. We were scrambling on the rocky embankment to get around a bend in the river. It was wet and slippery in January. There were some metal bolts in the rocks that we used to steady ourselves, but they were few and far between. Andy had made it to higher and drier ground. He was safe. I was between bolts and nearly slipping down the steep slope. Andy offered to come down and take my hand. I refused him and told him to stay where it was safe. I didn’t want to drag him down with me if I slid. When I finally made it up to safety, he called me the most stubborn person he knew. He was right; I was being ridiculous.
After college we went separate ways: he went to seminary, and I went to grad school to study literature. We kept in touch and visited each other when it was feasible, even traveling hundreds of miles to do so. Though we changed after those years in college, we were still such close friends. It didn’t matter if we’d started to diverge in some of our theological or political views and no longer agreed on nearly everything. He still accepted me and knew who I was, as I did him. But it’s hard for me to think of him as a police officer. He’d been an officer a little over a year when he was killed. We lived in different states. The last time I’d seen him he was still in training.
Before he became a police officer, he was aiming to become a missionary. He had spent years preparing to go overseas. He had studied at Bible college and seminary. He had worked all sorts of odd jobs for years while he tried to raise funds of support. It didn’t work out. By then he had a family to support, so he suspended his missionary candidacy and got a job that had stability. And barely over a year later he was dead. I think I would have come to accept his new vocation, learned to re-orient my understanding of him. But I never really got the chance. And it wasn’t all that much of a change, now that I think about it. He was willing to take risks to help people, just like he was reaching out to me so I wouldn’t fall down the steep slope into the river. Except he did end up getting dragged down.
This blog is about strangers and change. I don’t think Andy and I would have ever been strangers no matter the changes we went through. He was that kind of friend. I miss him terribly.
Postscript. Concerning the song, there’s nothing that is all that particular about Andy or his life, but I love the picture of needing a helping hand to cross the rivers of our lives, even though the story I’ve told is one where I didn’t accept his help. If I had it to do over, I’d take his hand. I also like the image of a “flying amphibian,” which in its ridiculousness does make me think of Andy. He had a menagerie of animals in high school, from an iguana to an albino python.