reeting him at our front door, the memories flooded over me like a long-overdue spring tide. He was balding and heavier than when I had last seen him shortly after graduating from high school, but it was his eyes that gave it all away. It was like conducting a retinal scan that confirmed his identity and hinted at all that now went with it.
Decades ago, Gerry (his real name is Gerald) and I had been such good friends, yet the bear hug we exchanged seemed a little awkward after so many lost years. I knew from bits and pieces gleaned from mutual acquaintances over the intervening years that time and tragedy had taken a toll. And even now his eyes, which flashed with familiar warmth, bore silent witness to scenes of pain they had been forced to observe. I felt a certain hesitation as I asked myself, "Would we be able to share more than the distant memories we had of spending so much time together? Would we have anything in common after such a lengthy time apart?" But when I noticed the tremor in his left hand as it rested by his side that I realized, regardless of what had intervened, our paths again shared a parallel route.
One might call it serendipity, or the power of social media, that brought us back together. Facebook, with all its weaknesses and manipulative potential, had brought about the resurrection of our old friendship. We had ventured to reconnect. Now we faced exchanging some of the chapters from each other's biographies. Now we faced a common enemy that sought to rob us of our separate dreams.
Gerry had always displayed a wonderfully quick wit, his sense of humor providing protective covering for his soft heart. He had been very popular at school, other students forming something of a phalanx around him whether at his locker or migrating from one class to another. I remember feeling privileged to have earned his friendship, despite a multitude of differences in our circumstances. We had only shared one class, but it led to an unexplained sense of connectedness. But, just as two cars that had set out to travel together, life's journey resulted in a sort of centrifugal force of circumstances that separated us. I had often thought of Gerry over the intervening years, feeling both a deep sense of loss and guilt at my lack of initiative.
As our evening together wore on with its reminders of common memories and catching up on the events of intervening decades, sharing of laughter and tears returned. Gerry had only recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's and, as is typical, the reality of it takes a while to sink in. Those early days are turbulent times for people with Parkinson's, when the gravity of circumstance invades the confused vanguard of responses. A phrase echoed through my dopamine depleted brain: "For such a time as this". There was a sense of purpose and predestination in our reconnected relationship. In subsequent research I rediscovered that the partial sentence quote comes from the Bible, the book of Esther, which details a curious story of a Jewish woman who proved to be in the right place at the right time. These are words of encouragement, even exhortation, to view one's life as having purpose. They have been words of challenge for me at junctures of my life, a daring question, "Could it be that I am where I am for such a time as this?"
It seems to me that we can never lose by asking this question. It does not need to impute some sort of superhero status or necessity to "wear the cape". Rather, the question asks us to assess the need to step forward, to volunteer, to be willing to take responsibility and to risk. To allow cross-examination by this question gives us an opportunity to use the mess, the mistakes and the memories of our lives for good.
My burden seemed lighter as we parted that night, Gerry and I having shared some of the fears and frustrations brought on by Parkinson's disease. Though frightening at times, we had reconnected in a deeper, if more demanding, way. It was as if our younger days had been but a foundation, built for a time like this.