LLast week my dear college roommate Robert S. (aka Bobby) called to check in, as he and I have done for over 50 years.
I’ll never know why we became roommates. I was the first hippie at St. Lawrence University in 1965. Shoulder-length hair, faded jeans with holes, protested the Vietnam War, and listened to the great Bob Dylan songs on my record player when I wasn’t in class or playing basketball.
Robert S. hated Bob Dylan and made it clear at least a few times a day throughout the year.
“Would you turn that crap off?!” He wore appropriate, pressed pants and had appropriate, short hair. He was heading for a senior position in the Reserve Officer Training Corps that would eventually take him to the battlefields of Vietnam as a second lieutenant. He was a leader then and has never left that path to this day.
Why were Robert S. and I roommates?
Some things you only understand many years later…
Bobby returned from Vietnam with a Silver Star, which he earned for bravery in battle. It is the third highest medal awarded for exceptional courage in battle. He told me what he could of his story: Surrounded all night by Viet Cong soldiers yelling, “Give us the American! Give us the American!” It didn’t happen. His South Vietnamese troops protected him. The next morning they made their way out of the jungle. A helicopter rescue team found them, invited the survivors and those who didn’t survive.
He hasn’t slept well since returning from the battlefield. too many memories But he keeps marching.
Four years later he graduated from law school in San Diego. I was fortunate to be with him on the first day of his law board class. roommates forever.
Twenty-four years later, he entered another battlefield – cancer. He was exposed to the toxin Agent Orange in Vietnam. He fought bravely again and went to work every day during his chemo and radiology treatments. The cancer is gone. We were in contact almost every day this year. One of his radiologists was a school friend of mine. She cried when they made the connection.
Back to his call last week. Whenever I see his name on my iPhone, I instantly snap back to our college days. I say something like, “This is Bob Dylan, can I help you?” And he’s like, “Hey, Bob, have you taken singing lessons yet?”
After a few more Dylan jokes, we’re about to catch up. This time he said, “The world really is in a terrible place these days, isn’t it?”
“That’s Bull****!” was my instant reply. He was surprised and not used to people pinning him down like that. He is a highly respected lawyer. He recently retired as US Attorney for Southern California. And I had just said “Bull****” to him.
“Here’s why, Bobby,” I said. “Look back to any time in history. The Holocaust, where millions were murdered and untold millions of soldiers and civilians killed. What about slavery? Whipping, Selling, Buying, Owning, Hanging. What about Mao Zedong in China? millions of people in our lives. Countless millions of indigenous people around the world have been brutally murdered. The list goes on.”
Bobby wasn’t prepared for my tirade.
I continued, “All I’m saying is that the world has never been remotely a perfect place. Our time doesn’t deserve to be singled out. In fact, it can even be a relatively good time.”
“I see that,” was Bobby’s legal response. Not his favorite speech, but that’s why I love him so much. He may be brutally stubborn at times but is always willing to be humbledly honest.
I was still on a roll.
“Some news media want us to believe that there is mostly darkness in the world. That is their job. Bad news is good news in this industry. But there is so much good happening in the world!! where you look Inexplicable generosity. Courage of every kind. Committed mothers and fathers. Healing of all kinds that has never existed before our time!
The world has never been an easy place. While we’re here, our main mission is to make our part of it a little bit better every day.
I absolutely know why Robert S. and I became roommates almost 60 years ago.
– Burt Gershater is a consultant, leadership coach, speaker and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org