In college, I had a crazy friend. He was wild, unbroken, a bounding force across my mild-mannered Bible college campus. I think I was a conundrum to him: part buttoned-up librarian/missionary, part weirdo with a non-conformist streak. My crazy friend was always going on and on about a friend of his, how he was the best man he had ever met, how people should stand up and applaud when this boy walked by. I pretended like I wasn’t paying attention, but I was. I started to stare at this certain boy, the best man that ever lived. That turned out to be you. We three–the crazy, the best boy, and I–went on long car rides to buy good cups of coffee. Our friend drove and we listened to Johnny Cash. I would put on “It Ain’t Me Babe”, a clear enough signal I thought, but you were silent and grinning like a cat in the back seat. You lied and told me you were older than you were, and I believed you and your adorable beard. A few months down the road and then you had your serious face on: there are two things I’ve been thinking about, you said. one, I think we should be in a band together. And two, I think we should get married. Ok, I said, calm as you please. Because I knew: once you meet somebody as kind as that, you don’t let them get away.
We had a baby but she came so early and almost killed me in the process. I sat in my hospital bed, unable to get up, and I watched as you grew up before my eyes: a boy in a worn-out yellow hoodie, holding the tiniest baby either of us had ever seen. I watched as the nurses taught you how to do all the things I thought I would do first: how to feed, diaper, and bathe our child. I watched as those nurses looked at you, how their hearts burst a little to see your intensity, your wholehearted absorption. How they loved you, that young, overwhelmed young father. I watched, helpless and grateful, as you were the one who took care of us all. In those early months, those first few years, you were rocking and shushing and burping and laugh-crying like the best of them. It never was an option for you to not be the best dad in the world. I watched as your world expanded, how all of us started to realize what it means when God is your father, Jesus your example, the Spirit your guide.
You threw yourself into the fire of life, and I got to see it.
We are in the car, you are driving and I am probably looking at instagram on my phone. You turn down the radio, the pop station that is one of your few vices. Looking very concerned, you explain to me that the song we just heard was extremely exploitative of women, and that this upsets you very much. I try not to laugh, because–pop radio, right? But it troubles you deeply, you who hang out with kids that soak up these messages like thirsty ground. You spend your time with hooligans, thugs, the drug-addicted and mentally ill, those who aren’t quite making it in our society and who act out in various ways. You paid thousands of dollars to learn how to listen to others, and now you do it for little-to-no money, and absolutely zero prestige.
You stand in-between those are are fighting and get punched in the head. You take the best pictures of cats. You can quote any Friends episode from memory. You are the only boy I ever kissed. You never raise your voice. You have overcome more pain than I will ever imagine. You pick up cigarette butts in the morning, and say hi to the people who throw them down in front of you. You make me coffee, nearly every single morning. You are the one who comforts the toddler in the middle of the night. You write poetry and music just for the sheer joy of it. You cook a mean stir fry. You hate citrus-flavored pastries. You make everyone feel listened to. You make no one feel threatened.
And oh my gosh I get to see it. How people talk to you, how they slowly encircle you, how they are always looking to see what you are doing out of the corner of their eye. Your whole life has been one of peacemaking, which isn’t for the faint of heart.
I know you don’t see it, but everywhere you go, people stand up and clap.
Happy birthday to my best boy.