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November 24, 2003
Last weekend I attended the wedding of a very good friend of mine from university. My friend, single throughout university, found what seems to be his soul mate, and has wasted no time in starting a happy life with her as man and wife. This isn't the first wedding of a friend I've attended - I've had many friends, both male and female, married off over the years. Despite being good friends in university, this particular friend and I managed to only extremely rarely see each other after we graduated. Obviously, it was great to see him again under such happy circumstances. So why is it that this is the one wedding I've come away from feeling a profound sense of loss?
This is by no means my typical reaction to a friend's wedding, or any wedding. In all the weddings I've attended for best friends, passing acquaintances, and everything in between, I've come away happy for the new couple and glad that I got to share in their special day (and huge celebration). In that respect, this wedding should have been no different. Yet somehow, it most definitely is.
One item that caught me by surprise was the announcement that he was moving, which I only found out during the reception dinner. His now-wife has been on the East Coast for a number of months establishing her career, and his career is portable enough to allow him to follow her out to where her work is. This means that I'll likely not see him for years to come. This shouldn't bother me much - although we were good friends in university, we hadn't seen each other in a number of years. In fact, I only just met his girlfriend/fiancée/wife at their wedding. I have other friends that I don't see for years on end either, so I can't see why this would cause a sense of loss.
Thinking a bit deeper, I think the reason for my feelings may not stem from the wedding at all, but from what I found out about my friend over the course of their wedding day. It started to become apparent during the speeches and toasts that were being given at the reception that my friend is very good at chess. Good enough to travel, compete, and teach, in fact. This alone surprised me, as I had never known him to be a hard-core chess player. Back in university I knew he knew how to play, but that was about it. I did not, so we didn't ever talk about the subject.
As the speeches kept coming, parents, in-laws, friends and family kept referring to his love of chess, and how long he's had this talent. It turns out that he's not only been able to play for a long time, including our time in university, but he was very good back then as well. Suddenly a new window opened up on my friend, showing an aspect of him that I never saw in university at all. Knowing that for five years there was this deep, significant facet of my friend that I never saw made me suddenly feel that I barely even knew him, despite the good times (and apartments) we shared.
In the intervening years since graduating, I have not only learned about chess but have come to love the game. I am by no means a Grand Master champion, but I am constantly learning more and more about the game, and eager to apply my new found knowledge. I play with my wife and some friends locally, and have started branching out, seeing whom else I know that might want a game with me.
So, what does this have to do with a sense of loss, you ask? Well, I think that I'm essentially grieving for the times my friend and I could have spent on chess, in addition to or instead of superficial chatter or mere co-existence. Although what we had (and still have to some degree) is a good friendship that will last many years across long distances, what we could have had - if only I had been interested in chess back then - would have been a much deeper and more meaningful friendship that would be even stronger and closer than what we have today. It's silly to think this way, but for some reason I can't help it. I view it as an opportunity missed.
Now that I've gone through and dissected my feelings post-wedding, do I feel any better knowing the root cause of them? Yes, and no. I'm glad to know why I'm feeling the way I do - having strong feelings such as the ones I'm having spring from utterly nowhere is rather disconcerting, so I'm glad to at least have a source for such emotions. At the same time, knowing where they've come from doesn't make them go away. Even knowing logically that what I'm feeling doesn't really make sense helps not a whit. I still feel that I was short-changed, that I didn't get to know the person behind the guy I knew.
Unfortunately, this is likely going to be a weird combination of an unfinished story and an unhappy ending. With my friend moving out East as soon as he's back from his honeymoon, I likely won't hear from him for about a month, and only then in the form of a mass e-mail giving out his new address and phone number. Maybe in a couple of months I'll get a thank-you card from him and his wife. Personal correspondence, something that has never been a strong point between the two of us, likely won't happen for a long while. Even then, I don't think I'd be able to - or would want to - tell him this whole story.
I guess this will be one of those character-building events in my life that could both shape and haunt future relationships. Maybe it's something that will slowly dissolve, and I'll forget about it entirely. I can only hope that it doesn't become a lead weight that lies in my stomach for the rest of my life. I have to remember that we are still good friends, and despite the distance I can still build on that. I should not mourn what I never had to the detriment of ignoring what I do have.
You may be wondering just what on earth I've been smoking that makes chess such a big fuss and bother. To tell the dead honest truth, it isn't. I've known how to play chess since before highschool, but simply do not have the patience or mental discipline to play well, and the game is not enough of a pleasure to play that would give me incentive to develop the patience and discipline necessary. It's an interesting game, but I much prefer other board games that fall somewhere between chess and checkers on the scale of ease-of-play and strategy involved. I'm not even sure if my friend knows how to play, let alone if he's any good.
In this instance, chess is simply a convenient analogy to keep you reading this far. When I've been talking about "chess", I actually mean something entirely different that has nothing to do with board games, playing ability, or any of that. The problem is, had I started out telling you exactly what it is I actually mean, you would have likely stopped right there. Some of the more curious would have kept reading, but might miss the point I have tried to make. Yet others would stop reading, profoundly change their opinion of me, and never read Not From Toronto again. Thereby, I very deviously crafted a detailed analogy that gets my point across, but keeps the true topic under wraps.
What is the topic? Christianity. It's a topic fraught with stigmas, connotations, stereotypes, assumptions, and strong feelings that run every which way. You might imagine why I'd shy away from such a topic in a largely secular forum such as this column. However, if I can't be honest with the handful of generally silent people that read my column on a weekly basis, then I can't even be honest with myself. So, you can go back and re-read this, substituting "Christianity" or the appropriate derivative in place of chess references. If you still need me to explicitly spell it out to you, you can always e-mail me.
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