I’m throwing a barbecue. I invited a few friends over for the holiday celebration. A few turned into a lot. Now I am surrounded.
And I am happy.
I don’t want to get mushy, but I couldn’t be happier if I won the Florida Powerball. There are two kids playing catch in my front yard. People are reaching into coolers full of ice.
One bloodhound is running around—off leash. And one toddler named Grayson is running around—Grayson is wearing a leash.
And I’m standing at a grill. I’m wearing a ten-gallon hat, and an apron my friend bought me.
The apron was a gag gift, it reads: “Never use gasoline to light a grill.”
There’s no need for this apron. But aprons help me appear like I actually know what I’m doing. And it’s important to look like you know what you’re doing when cooking raw meat for several innocent bystanders.
The truth is, I am not a good cook. I’m a writer and an accordionist. And writer-accordion-players are only good at bouncing checks, and using-way-too-many-hyphens-in-one-long-sentence.
Case and point: long ago, my wife bought me a grill when we first got married. And before I tell you the rest of this story, I should also explain that it was one of those K-Mart jobs, with an instruction booklet written in Mandarin.
The grill didn’t cooperate. So, like any responsible American problem solver, to light the grill I resorted to using an acetylene blowtorch and gasoline.
Thus, the apron.
Since then, my friends have never let me forget about those foul tasting hamburgers. Neither will they let me forget about the following day, when I attend my cousin’s baby dedication with hairless forearms and no eyebrows.
But today, I’m not worried about food because I’m here with friends. I’m feeling nostalgic.
I’ve known some of these people for a long, long, long time. And they’ve been good to me.
Take Fred and Tom, for instance. We’ve been in a band together since the earth cooled. Tom plays bass. Fred play drums. In the decades we’ve been together we’ve played music everywhere from Nashville to Two Egg.
We’ve played honky tonks—behind chicken wire cages. We’ve played Biloxi. We played a barn dance, just outside Montgomery. And once, we played at the grand opening of a Chik-fil-A. I’m not proud of that.
I’m talking feed-store openings, baby showers, Little League championships, bar mitzvahs, Baptist churches, livestock auctions, colleges, Pentecostal quilt-making parties, beer festivals, and of course every year we play music on the Fourth of July.
So I’m sort of lost in thought, watching my friends. These are people who all have families of their own. People who will mostly be doing the same sorts of things tonight. They’ll watch fireworks, swat mosquitoes, and kiss their children.
And I’ve forgotten what I was talking about. I guess I’m too busy thinking about how lucky I am.
I am lucky. I’ve spent most of my life as a thick-headed fool. And sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and have a serious talk with Young Me. If I could, I know exactly what I’d tell him.
“Don’t listen to people who say that life is all about becoming a success, or building a nice retirement cushion, or owning big real estate, or traveling to Europe, or avoiding-too-many-hyphens-in-one-big-long-string-so-that-it-never-seems-to-end-but-just-keeps-going-until-it-takes-up-several-lines.
“Life is pretty simple, Young Me. In fact, it’s so simple you’re going to chuckle when I tell you what I’ve learned.
“And here it is: you only get a few friends. Not a lot. Just a few. And these friends are it. That’s all there is to life. This is your purpose. Friends. They’re everything.
“Friends aren’t just people, Young Me. They are people who know you. So make as many as you can because there is nothing greater in life than being known.”
But then, you can’t go back in time and tell the young version of yourself all the things that you think you’ve learned. It wouldn’t work. You wouldn’t listen to you.
So I guess what I really want to say is: I’m the luckiest man alive, today. To have you as my friend, and to be here together for however brief of a time we have.
I’m sorry these hamburgers taste like gasoline.