Dearest Rachel –
As I said the other day when I found the cache of photos you took our your class trip to Greece back in the day, what happened when you returned to the States – and stayed with us for the better part of a week – was a story in and of itself, and for another time.
Well, there’s no time like the present.
We are always told that “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” How people see you the first time they see you is one of the most important things in an interpersonal relationship.
And while that’s fairly sound advice for what is clearly expected to be a significant relationship, like a job interview or a first date, we don’t always recognize the important relationships when we first meet a person, so we don’t always know to make a good impression. At the same time there are others where we don’t really remember much about the first time we met an individual that later turns out to be significant.
Certainly, I don’t remember the first time you met me. As far as I was concerned, it was just another Wednesday evening at BASIC. And the way I behaved – however you interpreted it to be – was just how I acted when I was there. I just had a lot to say despite not being the leader, and I would simply say what came to mind when it came to mind. In retrospect, you were quite correct in your assessment of me as a rather rude know-it-all. But I’d like to think I proved that I could change.
On the other hand, I do remember the first time I actually made an effort to directly speak to you. Not because I thought you would be that significant my life, necessarily, but simply because of the unusual situation in which I found myself. It was morning in the cafeteria, and you were the only familiar face I saw at breakfast, so I figured I’d go over, sit by and talk to you. The problem was, this was Halloween. And I had dressed up as a mime, face paint and all. Now, consider… how does a mime speak to anyone? Yeah, as I said, it was rather ridiculous.
Similarly, it was rather odd when, as I was meeting with Elias for coffee a few weeks ago. I’d been trying to make connections with people who have reached out to me, wanting to help me through this difficult time, and he was one of those who took the “let’s have coffee sometime” cliché seriously. The thing is, when we were talking, he mentioned how he remembered the first time he met me, when he started dating his now wife, who was just a few years older than me in the high school group at church. Apparently I struck him as a particularly cheerful, jokey sort of guy, and he developed a favorable impression of me, one that stuck with him enough to mention it now some twenty , thirty years later. For my part, I remember absolutely nothing of him from that time: the first time I really recall ever seeing him was when he and Jean began serving with us in Sparks on me just a few years ago. That’s it.
Of course, there have been other first in counters that I remember vividly. When that comes to mind was the first time you and your parents came to visit us for Thanksgiving. I know everybody teases me about my reaction, but for your mom to walk in the door with a hearty and cheery “how the hell are you, Randy?” in front of my parents, who never swore – and certainly never as casually as that – well, how would you have expected me to react, aside from being mortified?
Of course, that was probably one of my most nervous days of my life already. I don’t know if I overcompensated by overeating, but I know I got pretty sick after that particular meal. I don’t always get so full that I throw up at Thanksgiving; in fact, I don’t think I ever have before or since. But that particular Thanksgiving was… exceptional.
And that’s the basic reason again why it’s so memorable: the circumstances were unusual, to say the least.
On the other side of the coin, there were also some unusual circumstances in my meeting some of the members of your mom’s family later on. The night before our wedding, several of your mom’s extended family – who, let’s just say, travelled in more rarefied and social circles then we did – showed up at the Fairfield Inn where members of the family were staying. It just so happened I was down in the lobby at the time, and I offered to help them with their bags. Once we got to the room, they offered to tip me. Yes, they thought the Fairfield Inn would have bellboys. And they thought I was one of those bellboys.
I think they were embarrassed when I refused their tip and explained that I was the groom, but I’m not entirely sure. Now, whether I really made a good impression on them or not, I have no idea. But, it was still an interesting first encounter.
All of which brings me back around to the first impression you made when you stayed with us after having been suddenly brought back to the states in the middle of J-term due to the invasion of Iraq. I don’t recall the particulars of why you were staying with us for an extended period of time as opposed to going back home to Macomb for the remainder of that month, but I was certainly not going to object.
In any event, something came up. My great aunt Hazel passed away, and the entire extended family gathered in Beloit for her memorial service, and to pay our respects.Since the entire family was going, you decided to go with us. At some point, when we were gathered in the family home, one of our older cousins came up behind you and gave you a hug, thinking you were my sister Jenn. It didn’t take him long to realize his mistake as soon as you turn around, but you responded in a way that defined you both to me and our entire extended family:
You turned around, smiled, reached back out to him, and said, “I’m not Jenn, but I’ll take that hug anyway.” That was a defining moment for you, one that neither I nor many in our family would ever forget.
And it was just like you.