I’m a firm believer that the path we are led down in life is highly influenced by the people that surround us and the experiences we have as children. It’s certainly something we can choose and something we can change later but I believe early on most become a product of their environment. In my case I succumbed to my environment and the people surrounding me which in turn rerouted my path in a direction opposite of which it was going.
Honestly I can’t say that I was a good kid because I seemed to find my fair share of trouble but I was having fun. I had a lot of friends, I was a leader and doing well in school but then something happened to change all of that. Exactly 30 years ago tonight in March of 1977 my friend, a person I looked up to as a big brother, committed suicide. He was athletic, good looking, and just overall popular with everyone. He never shunned a soul despite the fact that he was admired by all. When my brothers and I were told our friend was dead we were stunned. I had never experienced death before and I did not know how to react. I never cried for anyone nor had I ever felt sad for anyone and to be quite honest I did not know how. I stood there stunned for what seemed like forever without any reaction at all. Finally at his funeral I broke down and cried for real for the very first time in my life. It wasn’t his death nor was it the fact that I missed him that caused the tears but instead it was the sadness that surrounded me. I couldn’t stand to watch others in so much pain and it hurt me to see each of them hurt. That was the day I learned it was okay to cry.
Later, when the toxicology reports came back indicating that he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of his suicide everyone was shocked. That is everyone with the exception of his friends of which I was one. He associated with a bad crowd but for the most part no one ever suspected he was the leader of the crowd. His friends knew so again I knew as well. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I never told anyone. I’ve always believed that just maybe if I would have he would still be alive today.
He did not die in vain because his death changed the lives of those that he called his friends. There were those that seemed to take it in stride but it was obvious that they had changed ever so slightly for the better. There were those that mourned over many months but then managed to move on in their lives with a lesson well learned. Then there was me and who knows maybe a few more like me. I couldn’t deal with his death and to be quite honest sometimes still struggle to this day. I felt guilty, I felt I didn’t deserve to have friends. I also felt that the friends I did have at the time could potentially lead me down the same path as my friend who just died. I was angry, scared and feeling guilty so I disassociated myself from everyone because I was certain they would lead me down the road to death. More importantly I never wanted to become close to anyone again only to feel the sadness of his or her death. I realize I took it to the extreme and I missed out on things that life may have had to offer but I never once succumbed to peer pressure. I was never once tempted by drugs or alcohol because of the toxicology report that indicated his death was due to depression brought on by the effects of the two. He didn’t die in vain. Even though I make mistakes on occasion I’m still a decent guy but I can honestly say I wasn’t on that path until my friend died. He didn’t die in vain.
One of the most important things that I can do as a person is try to be a good role model for kids. I know that people watch when I run and I know that I influence each of them in some way. I may not say a word but they look for me and somehow my presence each day puts a positive thought in their mind. There have been times when I’ve had a little boy or girl run beside me for a few yards and ask me what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. You know I don’t ever remember what I say but I do know that it puts a smile on their face. It’s not my words that matter but rather my presence each day and my dedication to what I’m doing that counts the most. One day they will think of me and if it’s a choice between running and drugs I certainly hope they choose the running. I may never know what happens but the fact that I know I can offer an option just because I’m there is another reason why I run. My friend did not die in vain and the result of his death will not stop with me.
To my friend James Lee Lardani December 24,1962-March 25,1977