"What's taking John so long?" That was my friend Erin's query one evening last fall, when the three of us had agreed to meet up and christen my new kayak. There's a lake triangulated within 10 minutes of each of our homes, and Erin and I were leaning on my car in the parking lot of a small shoreside park tucked away at the north end. John was bringing both of his boats, since Erin's was still filled with mud from a river burial that's better left to the imagination. I had wrestled my 12-footer onto the roof of my car solo and made it up the lake without anything coming loose. Quite an accomplishment for the maiden voyage, I thought.
The three of us had worked together at the same company and on most of the same projects for more than two years, although I had recently gone freelance. John and I went back a bit further. The company he used to work for subcontracted for the company I used to work for. We'd all settled into an easy camaraderie.
"Probably picking up a six-pack and a grape soda at Stewart's," I answered Erin, considering our close proximity to one of the ubiquitous regional convenience stores. The look on her face posed numerous questions, and I grinned. Both John and Erin (and John's wife and Erin's affianced) enjoy a variety of local beers. I don't drink alcohol, and from past experience, John knew that my libation of choice from Stewart's was the store-brand purple pop. I was being a smart-aleck, but sure enough, John arrived moments later with two boats, a six-pack, and a grape soda.
What followed was a memorable, yet totally uneventful, evening on the water. We didn't go far at all. Just paddled out a bit, kicked back, nursed our respective bevvies, watched the sun dip low and paint the trees, and shot the breeze about everything and nothing.
I am grateful for the wide diversity of friends in my life. For the most part, though, many of us spend too much time in our heads. Or watching other people do fun things instead of doing them ourselves. It annoys me that somewhere along the road to "grown up," I let my cerebral career, restaurant-based social schedule, and all-consuming (for a time) musical hobby drag me away from the random activities I used to enjoy and from the healthy life that made those activities a no-brainer.
The fact is, I want to run. I want a decent road bike. I want to get back on skis. I want to build the confidence and endurance to join up with people who like to do the fun stuff, without worrying much about being competitive at it. (As a kid, I proved I had great technique, but no speed at anything except swimming and sprints. Finishing last all the time is not an enjoyable enterprise.) I also want to recapture what it's like to relax and toss around a frisbee, climb a mountain, play badminton, or swim across a lake. All of that may take some time. That's okay, though. Life's not a race, no matter how much it feels like it sometimes.
Thank goodness for my friends who remember how to be ... well, normal. And who keep the invitations flying. A BBQ just for fun. A walk in the woods because they're there. A drop-in on the lake because it's a beautiful day. A chance to lean on the rail at a truck pull because ... why not? Those are the times that people breathe. They're fleeting. And perfect. And, for someone who works alone all the time, a welcome reminder that the real world still exists.
So this weekend, the kayak cradles go back on the car. The season for fun and optimism is here. Bring it on.