Sunday, January 16, 2005

Part III: 2004 A year of Friendship: New friends

I started 2004 with a realization of just how close I'd become to my new friends when I said goodbye to Krysia, Jane, Sascha, Mike, Eric, and my other great Emory friends.

Fortunately, I was able to visit with them from time to time over the year - and hope to be able to in the future as well.

In Costa Rica, Becky and I stopped to help a couple who were having car trouble and wound up being treated to great conversation and an outstanding dinner by this interesting and adventurous duo from California.

I got into motorsports in 2004 when I decided to take my WRX to a track day at Road Atlanta. Little did I know that I'd make friends at that track event whom I'd be playing guitar and drinking Scotch with a year later.

In Washington, D.C., I met two of Gary's good friends, one whom I enjoyed laughing and drinking lunch-time margaritas with -- the other, whom introduced me to hookah bars with middle-eastern music and the best late-night espresso I've had.

In Thailand, I made several new friends while diving, including ex-pat British dive shop owners, dive instructors on mega-extended holidays, and a group of guys from the States who motivated me to dive the Galapagos Islands.

In a small village in the jungle near Burma, I drank rice moonshine with one of my best friends from the States and several new Thai friends, most of whom didn't speak English. That night we listened to an impromptu live concert of folk music and bonded with our new Thai friends through song, food, drink, and smiles. This may stand as my most salient "new friend" experience of the year. Incidentally, several nights later, after another evening of traditional drink and hours of laughing at jokes we had no hope of understanding, a park warden warned us not to venture away from our tents due to the risk of being attacked by a tiger.

In hindsight, I'm not so sure about how well jungle-brewed alcohol and camping in tiger country mix!

In the Galapagos Islands, I spent a week on a liveaboard dive boat, building new friendships with divers from California and the U.K. Experiencing such stunning marine life and amazing scenery in an exotic location with a certain element of risk pulls a group together quickly. I couldn't have asked for a better group to celebrate the Galapagos Islands with.

The sport of cycling led to a huge year of new friendships. Thanks to Becky's motivation to do group road rides and to make new friends in the process, I was introduced to a new and constantly growing group of wonderful people starting in the late spring.

From weekday group rides and cycling trips to the North Georgia mountains to a series of fall parties and off-season activities, I gradually met and bonded with what seemed like a dozen new people a week! As the days grew shorter and darkness fell by late afternoon, we transitioned from cycling to climbing, with various music, movie, and dinner events added along the way. This group of new friends has made a huge impact in my view of living in Atlanta, and I'm looking forward to continuing to spend time with them in many cycling and non-cycling activities over the next year.

Now, it took me just over 1,700 words to explain it, but now that I've completed my reflection on the year, I feel more strongly than ever about what a fantastic year of friendship 2004 was!

I thank my old friends and my new friends alike for playing a role in my life in 2004! I look forward to many more years with your friendship.



Thursday, January 13, 2005

2004: A year of ?

I've been reflecting quite a bit on 2004 lately.

I've been looking for a simple description of the role that this set of twelve months played in my life. In 10 or 20 years, I want to be able to look back on 2004 and say "ah … 2004 … that was a year of _____".

Is there a single word or idea that captures the essence of this year in my life? What did this year really mean to me? What was it all about?

One possibility is 'change'. It was definitely a year of change. I started the year by making a gut-wrenching decision to change career direction - to move away from pursuit of a PhD - to say goodbye to my good friends and colleagues at Emory and to a path that I'd spent a number of years pursuing. "Change"? Certainly a year of change … but that's not quite the right label for the whole year.

"Travel" is another possibility. I was fortunate enough to experience adventures in Costa Rica, Thailand, Alaska, California, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands. 2004 was certainly an epic travel year, but 'travel' just didn't capture the essence of the year - neither did 'adventure'. It was more than that.

"Learning"? That's certainly a good label for the year. I set off on many new learning journeys in 2004, including performance driving, SCUBA diving, backpacking in grizzly country, guitar, and wine tasting. "Learning" is a lifelong focus though, so I don't feel good about labeling one specific year as a year of learning. The same goes for "Family" or even

"Becky" - two wonderful parts of my life that transcend the years and don't seem to fit as the perfect label for a specific year.

So, what was 2004 all about in my life?

I got it -- now I have an answer I can live with - actually, one that seems perfect the more I reflect on it.

For me, 2004 was a year of Friendship - of rekindling old friendships and making many marvelous new friendships, more so than any other time in my life with perhaps the exception of my first year in college. Many of these new friendships started right here in Atlanta, while others developed in other parts of the world. Friendship - that simple word describes a recurring theme throughout the year of 2004 - a theme that seemed to have a special significance in this year of my life.

I have much to say on this topic, so I've decided to split this posting into three. Stay tuned for parts II and III!

Part II: 2004 A year of Friendship: Old friends

Becky and I started 2004 celebrating with

Ken and Sarah, a childhood friend and his wife, whom incidentally we feel we've known for just as long as Ken. I love how things seem to never change with old friends, even when a great deal of time passes between visits.

As the winter turned into spring, I started seeing a lot more of my best friend Sean, whom I've been near-brothers with for over 25 years now. We've lived in different cities for over half the years that our friendship has spanned, so it's been wonderful to be back within an hour's drive again.

The monthly phone chats I have with Chris remind me how happy I am to be back in contact with him after so many years - and how glad I am that we can still play a role in each other's lives while not having lived near each other in over 15 years.

Another great friend, Gary, whom I've only lived near for a few months of nearly a nine year friendship, and I remained in email contact nearly daily in 2004. In addition, we managed to see each other quite a bit through travel, including nearly three weeks together in Thailand - a week of that trekking through the jungle near Burma on elephants and bamboo rafts. Memorable to say the least.

Kevin (a friend from high school, my college roommate, and father of our God-children) dropped in for a fall visit to see another high school friend work his way to the final four on the reality show, the Benefactor.

Late night talks with Kevin played a major role in three years of living together at UGA - and yes, some things never change as we both enjoyed re-enacting our chats and laughs during his excellent visit.

Becky and I enjoyed grilling out with our old neighbors and great friends Meg, Brendan, and Cindy -- and sharing in the joy of Craig and Cindy's wedding with them at their reception party.

Sean and I were fortunate enough to visit with Cleo and Rosalie in August - a couple that really feel more like family to us than friends.

Sonia and Gary visited in the fall, reuniting friendships that started with cycling -- friends who we biked with from the Grand Canyon to Oregon a few years ago and who click so well that we always leave each other's company bummed that two of us live in Atlanta, one in DC, and the other in Seattle.

Becky and I attended Homecoming at UGA this fall, reuniting with many of our band friends -- a group that became our first family away from home nearly 15 years ago. We also saw more of one of my best buddies from college, Jason, as well as bag-pipers and new parents, Tom and Becky.

Dave, Sean, and I went winter backpacking together in the Smokies - I just love spending time with these guys together. Dave is a friend from high school - but one whom I realize I have so much more in common with now than I ever would have thought then. It's too bad we only get to hang out together on one annual backpacking trip!

Becky and I made it out to Colorado for an early December ski trip, and my heart was lifted when I spent time with so many great Colorado friends. These friendships were so important to Becky and me - it was very tough to leave our friends in Colorado, so we were quite happy to be reunited with so many special friends during our visit.

Becky and I felt very happy to live so close to our friend Sandy. Her travels and optimistic, energetic, and adventurous attitude gave us a jolt of energy every time we saw her, which is much easier now that we only live a few miles apart.

We closed out our year with an opportunity to spend time with Kevin, Michelle, Ryan, Kyle, Lori and Lori's new baby Emily.

Thanks to email, I also kept in touch with many other old friends, such as my Aconcagua tent-mate and other expedition members, great friends from former jobs, and many old neighbors from both Georgia and Colorado.

So, one reason that I'm calling my 2004 "A year of friendship" is that we were fortunate enough to spend time with so many old friends - to even have so many old friends in the first place. I suppose that this posting is a bit of a thanksgiving post! While our experiences with old friends had a lot to do with what this year was all about, making new friends also played a huge role - as will be explained in part III!