Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving I

I hope to set other things aside this week, and just do one post each day on something for which I am thankful. Moved by worship this morning to give thanks, I am beginning with more than little trepidation, as my first post will deal with a person who, while no longer with us, taught me much, and the memory of whom makes me smile, all these years later.

My earliest memories of Chip Kinch go back to some time at Lincoln Street Elementary School in Waverly, NY. I'd like to say I know for sure it was third grade, but I can't say for sure. Over the ensuing years of school, he was just there, this tall presence, full of life and laughter, sometimes too full of himself, but then again, when are any of us free of that particular minor vice?

In retrospect, being a friend with hims seems incongruous. Besides being far shorter than he was (Chip was six-three before he was a freshman in high school; he loomed in a very physical way), we were opposites in other ways. He was outgoing where I was a bit more tentative. He always seemed happy, where I had a tendency toward adolescent gloominess. He was insouciant toward authority, whereas I had a fear of being caught out being or doing wrong. He seemed to love life, where I, at times, was far too angst-ridden, burdened with ennui to carry on.

As we grew older, in senior high, I learned to lighten up. I learned this from him. The lesson didn't always take, and I still have occasion to remember his example of simply enjoying the moments we are given. Being able to laugh at oneself makes laughing at others more honest, because it comes from a more honest place than ridicule. It is mutual enjoyment of the folly of life, the absurd things we do and say, the foolish things we find ourselves doing.

We were on our high school swim team together. I will never forget a moment our senior year. Our coach was having us do pulse-checks during one practice session, checking our heart rates after some sprints. After touching the wall, we were to raise our hands (I forget why), and with the other, check our carotid pulse. Chip suddenly burst out, "This is the Waverly High Swim Team of 1983!" and mimed an exaggerated hand-waving and pulse checking. I laughed because he had caught the absurdity of the moment so perfectly.

After high school, we drifted apart, as even close friend will do. We crossed paths on occasion, the most memorable at a party on Christmas Day, 1986. We sat and talked, and I was increasingly concerned as he told me, nonchalantly, of his life. I will not speak ill at this moment, revealing all he said, but I had an inkling, I guess, a bad omen of things to come.

A couple weeks later, on January 9, 1987, he took his own life. I had few to no emotional resources to deal with his death. Being out of town at the time made the whole situation doubly hard. I went through a long period of guilt, totally unwarranted, because I missed signs that could have led me to see at least the possibility of an attempt at suicide. After the guilt, I spent quite a bit of time angry with him. I was angry that he hid so much from us; even as kids and youth, he never once gave a sign of what must have been the many anguished moments that led to his final, desperate act. At least, not that we interpreted as such at the time.

Finally, nearing twenty-four years on from his death, I can say that I am so very thankful that I called him friend once upon a time. I learned a lot from him. I laughed a lot at him, at myself, and with him at the silly things all kids do. While part of me can still be pissed at him for not learning the lesson he was teaching me each day, I am still grateful that he lived. I let go, years ago, of focusing so much on his death so I could be able to celebrate that he lived, and that I could call him my friend. So, today, I am thankful for the life of Charles "Chip" Kinch.

Virtual Tin Cup

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