A Blast from the Past

I snapped this photo three years ago, sitting at a breakfast booth in downtown Atlanta on the morning of our niece's wedding.

This image flashes across layers of my mind, with close-up color and distant monochrome ... the hard-to-read immediate and an easier-to-decipher distance.

Hidden at left, across the empty street, are two emblems of my alma mater, Georgia State University. Three degrees ago, my days at Georgia State are a blur of busy-ness -- carrying 15 hours of classes while at the same time (by the end) working up to 60 hours a week at multiple jobs. And remaining very active in my little home church. And maintaining friendships. And dating a bit. 

I carried a lot of great experience from GSU, which was then exclusively a commuter university. Studying journalism in downtown Atlanta, students shadowed journalists with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and covered Atlanta police beats, sports teams and courts. In that pre-internet era, though, college friendships were often transient: I'd laugh and ponder all quarter with an intelligent, hilarious, thoughtful classmate then never see him or her again. It can be like that at a commuter college, when students may require a shift to night classes or an indefinite break from school to work -- and you each live one hour away, in opposite directions, from campus. Oh, well. Keep working.

As a result of that crazy busy schedule and the ebb-and-flow of commuter college life, I lost touch with most of my college buddies.

Then ... last week ... an email appeared in my inbox. The sender: the first friend I made in my first college class -- and one of my three most treasured college buds. This friend's name is Lowell Alexander and our 18-year-old selves learned very quickly that we had a boatload of mutual friends and a shared faith in Jesus Christ. We took several core classes together -- some by accident and most by design ... English, Algebra (two different classes, as I recall), Music Appreciation. Probably more.

But I was a journalism major and Lowell a music major -- and a very gifted songwriter and piano player. Our paths forked. We kept in touch for a little while, but he married and moved to Nashville as a staff writer for Sony, Warner and then EMI and I pursued the journalism/ministry paths. Yet I've never forgotten this humble and hilarious friend.

Six weeks ago, one of our mutual friends died suddenly from a short and fierce cancer battle. As he perused the condolence page, he spotted my name and contact info and he reached out. On Monday, we spent an hour on the phone, catching up. He is still the same kind man I remember -- gifted musician and happy husband, dad, son and brother.

We hope to connect next year when his family ventures to Orlando. What's fascinating: Though we hadn't spoken in about 30 years, we both hold specific, vivid memories of the other -- and we both recall the other as a great encourager in life and faith.

I've been buoyed in the days since by friendship reclaimed. And I'm reminded that, despite the monochrome veil of memory, many colorful people have graced our lives ... and we are richer, deeper, more colorful because of it.

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