The DJ had the music turned up so loud that I couldn’t hear my college fraternity brother talk. We filled up our cups with more beer and went upstairs to the second-floor landing to watch out over the rest of the party-goers. While still loud, I could hear a little better what my friend was telling me.
He was a senior getting ready to graduate; I was a freshman trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. In my mind, he had it altogether. He was decisive, I was unsure of myself. He was smart and had strong speaking skills. I stuttered and stammered and sometimes had trouble expressing myself. He was weeks away from graduation and a clear path to riches and success, I still had 90-plus credits and was three years away from even thinking about graduation.
Thanks to the beer in my hands, I told him that college was still new to me and my grades weren’t what I expected and I was scared that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. He told me to relax. “I was a couple credits away from graduating and decided to change my major, how smart is that?”
I still remember him using his own story to calm my fears. “I could’ve continued on the path I was going. I could’ve even graduated on time, but you have to be happy with the choices you make in life.”
His words hit home like none other I had ever heard. I no longer heard the band or the packed party, just the lifeline he was passing along to me. “You have to love what you’re doing Brian. If you’re not happy on the inside, you’re never going to be happy on the outside.”
Going our separate ways
We talked for another thirty minutes or so and then he had to get together with a friend from home, while I had to catch-up with the rest of our fraternity brothers. We talked a couple more times before the semester ended at our fraternity house and the college newspaper, where we both worked, and then a few weeks later he was off to graduation.
We lost touch over the years. He went to grad school out west in Utah and I ended up moving first to Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and then back to Pennsylvania. We reconnected in recent years via Linked-in, but I was still stunned last week when I came upon his name listed in the Memoriam section of my college magazine. He had passed away unexpectedly in late October.
The news took my breath away. He was so young. He was just 52.
A message with meaning
Despite its briefness, I thought frequently over the years about the conversation we had at the party. His words of encouragement came at an important time in my life and kept me going through a challenging time. As time went on, my friend’s words pushed me on when I didn’t think I had anything else to give.
They served as a good barometer too. What are the achievements I’m proudest of? What are the most important things in my life? Am I following the right path or have I fallen off course? Was I living up to my own value system? How do my choices make me feel?
I thought too about how he was he doing and whether he had found happiness out West.
We run into millions of different people in our lives and we never know where a 30-minute conversation might lead us. For me, one conversation in 1987 led to a lifetime of happiness.
I hope my friend found his happiness too. He’ll remain forever in my thoughts and prayers.