Wednesday, December 5, 2007

College friends and The Big Chill

One of my favorite movies is The Big Chill, a 1983 film about a group of close-knit college friends who gather 20 years later for the funeral of one of the friends. In the movie, Alex (we never see him onscreen, except for the jagged lines of suicide on his arm when the mortician is preparing his body) has slipped away from the group, and each of them is left wondering how their friendship with Alex diminished and why they didn't foresee what led him to commit suicide.

William Hurt's character, Nick, reminds us that "...a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don't know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It's not surprising our friendship could survive that. It's only out there in the real world that it gets tough."

Today, while I was perusing the World-Herald, I read a story about one of my college friends who I competed with in forensics. We were dramatic duo partners for a couple meets when I was a freshman and he was a senior. We did "I Bring You Flowers." He was fun to work with, and he definitely carried our duo since he was a much better actor than I could ever be. Dan had a good sense of humor, too, and it was a positive experience during the speech season.

But after graduation, he went his way, I kept competing and stayed busy with school, and life interrupted the friendship. It was almost 10 years before I saw him again, at a speech meet, and by that time, the college friendship had changed into simply exchanging pleasantries.

And I'd see him at meets throughout the year, and always at State Speech, where his team won 13 consecutive championships. He was amazing; he demanded perfection; and he will be missed.

On Tuesday, Dan lost his battle with cancer. Even though I knew him for nearly 30 years, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time. It was easy back then. It's only out there in the real world that it gets tough. And it's out there in the real world that friendships disappear from the horizon and evaporate into memories of a scared freshman and a confident senior who forged their way through common interests and let it slip away.

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