Running Beside a Friend's Grave

I can’t remember if it was after Tim told us he shot a squirrel at 100 yards with his bow, or bragged about pushing a transsexual off a cliff on some island overseas, but, whichever it was, a mutual disgust of this psychopath initially sparked my friendship with Dave Lane. Tim and Dave and I were all three cursed by the gods. We spent our days with backs bent, traversing steep roofs, ripping off and nailing shingles onto homes in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s the kind of drudgery officials should force the vilest convicts to do. But, true to form, I had sold my own self into this slavery.

Dave smoked Marlboros and preferred to drink instant coffee mixed with hot tap water from a plastic cup. He had a way with the ladies and the respect of the men, though he wasn’t well-liked by them. Most of the guys I worked with, once they found out I was attending seminary, felt obliged to clean up their language while talking with me, like limiting F-bombs to only one grammatical usage, instead of a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, proper noun, and vocative, all in the same sentence. It got old laboring alongside men who pretended a sanctity that was worse than their profanity. But my vocational aspirations didn’t faze Dave. He was who he was, and I was who I was, and that was just fine with both of us.

We competed in out-eating each other at breakfasts we paid for by surreptitiously selling old copper from roofing jobs and pocketing the cash. He did his best to throw me across the lake while skiing behind his boat. We rode roller coasters at Cedar Point while our wives talked about whatever wives talk about while their husbands are at play. We followed trails of blood through the woods after he wounded a buck with his shotgun early one fall morning. Dave and his wife even drove across half the country to spend a Thanksgiving with us when I was serving a parish in Oklahoma. He was one of the few friends I’ve had for whom giving up my own life would have been an honor.

But I couldn't give up my life to save Dave when cancer took his own when he was in his late thirties. I couldn’t take what little weight I had to transfer to that once muscular body that I embraced as skin and bone one last time in the winter of 2006. I couldn’t take the light in my eyes and illumine his that were already darkening in death. His little girl, just a few years old, was in the room, looking at the daddy she would lose on Christmas night a few weeks later. I damned death that day. I damned cancer. And I cursed the senselessness of a world in which men like Dave die instead of men like me.

Anyone who knows me, knows that running is part of my life. What they might not know is that I began running when Dave wasn’t able to walk anymore, much less run. And when I run, part of me is always running beside his grave. I run for the friend who didn’t live long enough to run alongside his daughter that first time she took the training wheels off her bicycle. I run for the friend whose place I wish I could take. And my footsteps are prayers and my drops of sweat are petitions to the God Who Makes No Sense to make of me the father that Dave never had the chance fully to be; to make of me a man whom he would still be proud to call “friend”; and to give me the stamina to run on into the light of the future, no matter how dark my past may be.