Monday, January 3, 2011

First Impressions

I'm at the center top. And that's Roger,
front and center. Just the guys in this
photo are good for hundreds of stories.
This weekend a college friend started posting on Facebook a bunch of old photos he scanned. Man, those were some crazy days. As I helped him tag the faces, I was embarrassed to admit I'd forgotten some of the names. But even at the time I was never good with names.

I was active in my fraternity, but also worked alternate semesters as an engineering co-op to pay for school. Not only did this delay my graduation, it kept me hundreds of miles away from "home" half the year. Every time I came back to school there'd be a bunch of new active brothers and pledges I'd never met. Even after getting all the names down, it would take me a while to really get to know them. Some were easier to like than others.

After a while I realized that some of the best friends in my life were people I didn't necessarily like or would have chosen to befriend based upon my first impression of them. Some of these guys existed in the periphery of my busy life for years before something happened to bring us together and spark a deeper friendship.

It was that way with Roger. Roger was a man's man. He chewed tobacco and collected guns. We had nothing in common and never really warmed up to each other. Then one summer I was working on a project in Alabama, a long, long way from Michigan Tech. I remember Roger telling me he would be spending the summer doing ROTC training at Fort Benning, but didn't realize until I'd started working that this Army base was just a few miles from me. I had to contact his family to reach him.

We hung out and had a lot of fun that summer. Back at school we had even more crazy adventures. He even took me bear hunting. I invited him to my home for holidays and my family adopted him. He met his future wife in my home town. Eventually we both graduated and moved on with our lives, getting together occasionally at weddings, reunions or college hockey tournaments.

A couple years ago I was shocked to hear Roger had been killed. At first I assumed he'd been called to active duty, but no. It was an industrial accident. Something about unloading chemicals from a tanker. I didn't even find out until after the funeral when my mom read about it in the local newspaper. I wrote his wife, but never heard anything back.

Looking at these photos reminded me of Roger. And it also reminded me not to take any of these old friendships for granted. There are a hundred other guys in these photos who are still very much alive. And, finally, it reminded me to never write anyone off based on shallow first impressions. You never know where your next new friendship will come from.

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