Making time for the ones that matter

If you’ve ever met me, at some point you realize, “this guy knows a LOT of people, and somehow still stays in touch with most of them” – a personality trait that occasionally drives Jen a little crazy.  It usually means a trip to, well, anywhere tends to fill up with social obligations; more often than not, these gatherings involve more people than you can possibly spend quality time with.  Trips home were becoming borderline insane; even heading to Tampa or Orlando (especially during high Mouse season) gave the opportunity to visit more people than time allowed.

Recently, I have begun to carve out sections in my various journeys to spend quality time with one person, or a handful of people.  It began in DC in February, and continued (for the most part) on travel to Philly, NYC, and Chicago.  Those trips featured moments that stood out not for a grandiose gathering of fun and entertainment, but for the smaller, more informal, relaxing moments shared – like surprising my cousins Coleen and Mike, or unknowingly crashing Russ and Vivian’s anniversary night for dinner with them (Happy Anniversary guys!).  It was time well spent – a welcome adjustment for me.

The conundrum with being on the road is that I am hitting places where I haven’t been in a while (outside of the NY/NJ/Philly 100 mile stretch), and those places have people I’ve  not seen since this diagnosis permanently altered my life.  A 10-day stretch in California that was already fairly busy became packed as I started reaching out to San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County friends.  The tight timeframe was going to put my California promises of “take it easy” and “spend quality time with individuals” to the test.

Heck, I was a few hours into Pacific Daylight Time and I had already met up with my old roommate Eric (aka “Slim” of “Chicken causes cancer and pizza is good for you” post).  He was manning a company booth at DIA, and I had a lot of time on my hands before the Wednesday presentation.  Between demos of the software, we caught up and gave his co-workers a glimmer of life in Hoboken in our early 20’s.  Not too much detail, though – our wives were already unsure if us being in CA together was a great idea. The last time he and I were in San Diego unchaperoned, we ended up in Tijuana at 3am making Long Island Ice Teas (literally, making them, behind the bar; when the bartender doesn’t speak English, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands with some “cross-cultural communications”.)  So our USA-USSR “mutual self-destruction” deal was no “good” stories to his coworkers (and boss) in exchange for no heckling me during my on-stage session.  

The “catch up with old friends” theme repeated over the next few days.  I had lunch with another friend from Hoboken – ironic, since I was moving my rental car every day to avoid street clean, just like I had to do up in the ‘Boke.  Tiffany was supposed to head back to work after lunch, but made the mistake of listening to me and calling her friend who worked for the Padres.  Next thing you know, we’re sitting on the 3rd base line enjoying mid-afternoon baseball.  

That night, I met up with my high school teammate Vince, who I hadn’t seen in close to twenty years.  He and I took very separate paths after our Eustace days (he was a Marine pilot after college, and settled in San Diego), yet thanks to Facebook, we reconnected and got a chance to rehash two decades in three hours.  The following evening, it was dinner with another high school teammate and family friend Pat, who I broke out of the house for sushi while his wife potty-trained their daughter. 

The weekend also included time with CMU friends in Orange County – grilling and a late night In N Out Burger run with Tania, Haley, and TJ (there’s another one) and a ton of reminiscing, enough that it probably annoyed the non-Tartan spouses.  I had a “normal” family afternoon with Goldi and his daughter, wandering the mall and playground and catching up over fish tacos.  He and wife Seema let me crash at their place all weekend, and I kept telling them, I will tag along with you guys and just spend time with your family.

The concentrated time ended Sunday with a final visit to another old roommate and CMU teammate Avi (coincidentally, the third party in Eric and I’s 1999 cross-border Tijuana trip).  In between watching the US soccer team blow the Portugal game, I got homemade Indian cooking lessons that I am definitely bringing back to FL with me.  Getting to spend time with him, Jeanie, and their kids was certainly a lot more calm than the Barat-Bash parties we had in NJ and SD 15 years ago.

Knowing all of these people for as long as I have, the time shared now was just, well, different.  It was relaxed, it was normal, but it was certainly a bit altered.  Being so long between visits, I felt on more than one occasion, “Am I saying ‘Hello’ again, or for the last time?”  You try never to dwell on that feeling, but sometimes the doubts can creep in.  All of the people above have shared different meaningful life experiences, starting in my teen years; the ups and (mostly) downs of high school football, the wonderful chaos of twentysomethings with a paycheck and the open canvas of adulthood, the progression from fraternity brothers, teammates, and classmates to parents and spouses – and lifelong friends.  I really don’t believe it was my last trip to see the Pacific Ocean, and that group of friends on the West Coast.  If by chance it is, well, then, I am glad I got to spend the right kind of time with each of them.



T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »