Crossing Paths

Sept 9, 2020–While pondering on my porch swing, it struck me about all the people we cross paths with in our lives, and how every one of those connections leaves an impression, one you might not even think about until 40 years later.

While I was on the road playing music in the mid-1970s, our band did one or two-week stints at clubs in small towns and on military bases across the country. One of our regular stops was at an almost not-a-town of Muddy, in southern Illinois. It was essentially a motel with a club and a package store. Being located in the middle of a dry county, the town had bubbly charms that drew large crowds six nights a week.

Though our time there was not long, the times while there were intensely experienced. It might have felt that way to me because I was just a farm boy out in the world for the first time. The bright lights of Muddy were Las Vegas to me. To this day, I keep surprisingly perspicacious memories of the place and the people–the pipe-smoking regular at the front table, the snarky bartender, and the sweet waitress who included this shy boy in local activities.

I go back even further to a classmate from 6th grade, one of my first friends of the girl variety. She was actually a tomboy, and I had more fun hanging out with her at recess than with the primping variety who preferred poetry and flirting. Plus she could beat me at tetherball, and that impressed me, because I was quite good at the game.

A bittersweet memory is of a high school classmate, one of our group of shoulder-punching guys who for some reason found nothing more fulfilling than driving around in my dad’s station wagon, playing miniature golf, and taking silly pictures in public restrooms. We were quite the rebels.

After radio silence for 45 years, while we raised families and built successful businesses, he started popping up on my timeline, making smart aleck comments on my posts. It was like being back in high school, when insults and sarcasm were the firmest proof that someone was your friend. But he let some truth slip through his posts, and I learned he cherished our relationship in ways he could never have admitted when we were high schoolers. Alas, the joy of reconnecting was jarred when we got the news that he was in a car accident, and didn’t make it out.

Those stories illustrate the good thing about social media. It has allowed us to reconnect with all-the-above childhood friends, classmates, and former teachers. And even though I have not been in the presence of some for four decades, and we’ve all moved on to families and careers, the connection from sharing those moments long ago remains.

But the real purpose of this train of thought is not about those who influenced you. The power–and frightening responsibility–lies in the impact YOU have had on people you might not even remember interacting with. Perhaps a friend who was having a hard time, or a former student, or an audience member touched by your performance.

It might be your own children. I am always surprised to hear my kids talking about things we did or said that popped up later in life–I never realized they had been listening.

That’s the scariest thing of all. Someone is always listening.