It was a warm spring evening in the rolling hills of West Virginia. My best friend and I were the tender age of five. Our church held annual outings called Father and Sons, a two-day camping trip attended by fathers and their sons. At the age of five I was about to begin a journey from the light to the shadows. I would not understand it for some time and I would not comprehend the subtle nature of a message meant to help shape the future.
As we walked from our small campsite to where the group of fathers and sons had gathered for dinner and story time by a large campfire, my mind was occupied by the thought of the "Hobo" dinner I carried in my hands. It was a simple meal, one that I loved, a ball of hamburger with carrots and potatoes wrapped in tin foil. We would place our hobo dinners in the fire, tell stories and eat. Later we would continue to talk and eat s'mors, another treasured campfire ritual. It was during that walk and that anticipation that my young friend walked directly into a rather large tree. Rubbing his forehead his father bent down and gently held his son asking him if he was all right. He asked him if he had seen the tree. My friend simply shook his head no. I noticed it then, but at the age of five my ability to catch the significance of the pained look that washed over the face of his father drifted past me.
As we aged I could see that my friend was just a little different. By the time we were eleven I learned the reason for the events of that night. My friend skipped school and was taken to the Naval Base for some eye tests. His father made the day as pleasurable as possible. After the tests were completed they drove to a picturesque location on the Puget Sound. His father took that opportunity to relate the purpose of the tests and their results. His father had known even before the tests, my friend was going blind. He had been diagnosed with a genetically transmitted disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. This disease slowly and methodically destroys the eye from the outside inward. The first sign of the disease is the loss of night vision. His parents had worked hard to prepare their son for this day. His father was pleased with the reactions he was getting and his fears were eased a bit. My friend seemed to take the news well. On the outside he remained positive, on the inside I could tell he was troubled.
Over the years our friendship dissipated and went the way of so many childhood friendships. We fell out of touch, but I never lost interest in my friend. I kept close tabs on him throughout our teenage years and beyond. From the sidelines I watched my friend struggle through his life. On the outside he continued to exude the confidence and positive image he had cultivated at an early age. On the inside it was a different story. I could see that he was just going through the motions, doing everything that was required of him. Measuring his commitments and rationing out only the amount required to see it through and for that reason he never seemed to reach his full potential.
He finished High School, graduating somewhere in the middle of his class. He went on a two-year mission for his church, returning home he set his eyes on a lovely and popular girl and married her. It was during this time his inward self finally caught up to his outward appearance. I watched as my friend tumbled down a dark hole into a world that was ultimately his own creation. I felt powerless as I watched with tremendous despair the self-destruction of my very best friend. I wanted to extend a hand and help lift him from the self-imposed prison he had exiled himself. I knew that I could not help him until he wanted to help himself. He knew I was there, he knew I was always there and he knew I would stand by him, but the choice and the timing was his. So I waited and continued to watch.
Over the years I watched as he destroyed his life, I watched as his wife and two precious children departed. I watched as he sank further and further into a pit that seemed to have no bottom. I watched as he compromised every ideal that had been instilled in him since birth. I watched as he blamed everything and everyone for the difficulties he had created.
Finally alone, alienated from his wife, his children and his family, he reached out to me. It was an invitation I had anticipated for so long. We spent many hours together. We discussed the life path he had chosen, the reason behind the decisions he had made. We talked about the impact of those decisions on not only his life, but on the lives of those who loved and treasured him as well. Over the next few years we grew closer than ever.
Together we discovered the true meaning of his life. We discovered that his path had been altered the day he discovered he was losing his sight. Fear and uncertainty had guided him towards a destiny that threatened to stifle his true potential. He had never given himself fully to any one thing, school, his marriage or a career. He had established limits for the amount he would give to any one thing. By attaching limits he ensured that he would not fail. The fear of failure dictated his life. If he set his sights too high then excuses became the norm. Eventually he sought acceptance from the wrong people and ultimately pursued the wrong paths. In the end he chose to create someone he was not.
As he began to realize the source of his problem he began to accept who he was, he began to realize that the only true freedom he had was how he chose to handle and react to any situation. He learned that he could not control the outcome, but he could control his reaction to the outcome. He began to view failure as a progressive step towards success. He learned that by failing you gain insight and knowledge.
Fear and uncertainty were now slowly becoming allies, they afforded him the opportunity to grow and expand as a man. He adopted the philosophy that the only fear was the fear of not trying. As he began to live that philosophy, he grew. As life threw him curveballs, he swung with reckless abandon. He suffered through the death of his younger brother, the loss of his children and the loss of so many promising years. He realized that all of his pain and suffering was as a result of his life choices and how he chose to react to adversity. Rather than dwell on what he had lost he pushed forward, dedicating his new life to doing the right thing, making the right choices and loving unconditionally. My best friend had turned the corner from despair to hope.
Slowly he built a new foundation for his life, brick by brick he worked to realize his true potential. He treasured the lessons life taught him. He realized that his life and the results of his life were his responsibility. He realized that losing his sight was not the end of a dream but the beginning. It was the vehicle by which he could accomplish a life long ambition. For as long as he could remember he had wanted to tell stories, to be a writer. The fear of failing had prevented him from realizing that dream. Now however, fear was not an issue. The fear he had run from for so long was now the catalyst behind his hard work. He remarried and has a truly lovely and inspirational wife. He is pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming an author. He recently completed his first novel and is working towards getting it published.
We have remained close, closer than ever. My best friend has learned the most valuable lessons life has to offer. You cannot deny your potential. You cannot run away from who you are and the roadblocks life throws at you. You have to learn from your failures, let them be the recipe for success and not the excuse for quitting. Confidence is not something you are born with, it is something you learn by never quitting, never stopping and always moving forward. You must understand that others view you as you view yourself. You have to accept yourself for who you are before you can expect anyone to accept you. You have to learn to love yourself before you can expect others to love you. And one last thing:
I am my best friend and you are your best friend.