On Friends and Friendships

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Good friends are difficult to find.

And yet once you find them they enrich your life infinitely.

Just now I am struck with a stark realization: I have lost many wonderful friends throughout my life, and a large part of the reason for the divide was my own fault.

Friendships are one of the things I have severely strained, if not outright sacrificed, in my pursuit of academic grandeur.

While I often think of my friends of the past and present, I rarely make the effort to stay connected with them.

It would sometimes take me a month to send a belated birthday email to a close friend. That is, if I actually remembered their birthday at all – which is rare.

It seemed that I was always occupied with something work-related, something higher on the priority list than my friendships.

But now, upon reflection, all those published manuscripts, awards, presentations, lectures, etc. pale in importance to the memories of great times shared with those closest to me.

This is just another example of how my priorities have become inverted in my young adulthood.

My regrets with regards to friendships are innumerable, but a number stand out at the moment.

My first real best friend was Tom Stawarz.

We were friends since we were kids back in Poland. We emigrated from Poland together with our parents (we drove a crème coloured 2 door Fiat, while Tom and his parents drove an orange one from Poland to Greece). When we finally ended up in Canada, Tom and I were inseparable – we talked about our grade-school crushes, we played hockey in the parking lot under our apartment building, we pretended to be radio DJ’s, we made time capsules and buried them in the nearby park – only to dig them up within weeks and reflect on how much we had changed, we got drunk for the first time together, we smoked our first cigarette and joint together, we walked to school together trying to develop our rapping skills;

“Yo, here we go.

Back to the hood.

Back to the old flippin’ hood.

We don’t go to school

Cause school ain’t cool

And our teacher is a fool”

We also had a band for a long while during those formative years. I still listen to those old tapes we recorded together of songs we wrote. Despite no formal training, Tom was a phenomenal drummer. Part of me wishes we could still jam like we had some 14 years ago.

Alas, I haven’t spoken to Tom in years.

Rob Heholt was the first friend I made in high-school. One random day, we started up a conversation while waiting for our Rossland Road bus to go back home after school. Immediately, we became fast friends, with countless road hockey games, Nintendo sessions, sleepovers that followed.

Rob was a naturally athletic guy, and he is the one who introduced me to the gym. At the time I was a bone-rack and was very self-conscious about my emaciated appearance. With Rob’s encouragement I started working out regularly after school, finally putting on a bit of muscle mass in the process. This encouragement also ignited my interest in exercise physiology and health in general – a butterfly effect that has led to my becoming a PhD in the area more than a decade later.

I had never truly appreciated this, but Rob may be the one person most responsible for me pursuing higher education.

Although Rob and I stay in touch with a few phone calls throughout the year, I must admit Rob is almost always the one to call me, not the other way around.

Of this, I am ashamed.

One of my closest friends during high-school and undergrad was Matt Sanchez, an initially shy, yet highly intelligent guy who had one of the most compatible (and thus twisted) senses of humor I have ever come across. We often fantasized about becoming writers for Saturday Night Live, and would spend many high-school classes coming up with ridiculous skit ideas, rather than doing work.

I was Matt’s best man when he married the love of his life, Dorota, some 4 years ago.

Since that time, Matt and Dorota have been blessed with two beautiful baby girls.

Unfortunately, I only know of this from Facebook.

I have yet to meet his second daughter.

And I have lived less than 2 hours away from them over the past 4 years.

This is equally shameful.

Since getting settled in Kingston, Ian Kudryk, his fiancée, Katie, and Ryan Graham and his wife, Tatianna, were some of our closest friends. The six of us had celebrated each other’s birthdays together for at least the past 2 years. They were also the friends who arranged a dinner for us to celebrate our PhD defenses and sent us off with presents for our South American trip.

The Vancouver Olympics earlier this year were a huge deal for all Canadians. The most important moment of these Olympics was the final hockey game between Canada and the US.

Our friends had gathered at Ian and Katie’s place to watch this phenomenal battle.

Unfortunately, Marina and I were in the depths of writing our theses at this time, desperately trying to finish up by a certain date in order to defend before the end of the winter semester.

Despite being invited, and even hassled by phone by our good friends, we erroneously chose to stay home to work on our theses.

We only saw the game through the highlights that flooded Canadian television over the ensuing days.

For any Canadian that was in the country at that time, the mood was absolutely electrifying and it was contagious.

Everyone was celebrating the victory with their friends and family.

It was as though we had just won a drawn out war.

And yet Marina and I were not celebrating at all.

We were working.

After mutually breaking down that same night, Marina and I swore we would NEVER AGAIN sacrifice our friends for our work – no matter how important and pressing our work may be.

To this day, I painfully regret not dropping my books and heading over to our friend’s house to watch the game.

I hope these regrets are not felt in vain, and that moving forward I stop making the same errors.

Friendships are dramatically more important than one’s career.

It is time I start putting more emphasis on the former, and less on the latter.

Peter

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On Love: The One Certainty

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“I’m uncertain about many things in this life, but I am absolutely sure about one thing: I love you.”

We’re sitting aboard a “first class” train heading across the most interesting scenery I have ever seen between two sketchy Bolivian towns: Uroro and Uyuni. We had spent the past 2 days in La Paz (the highest capital in the world) doing nothing more than trying to recover from our respective illnesses. (We unfortunately missed the midget wrestling, the indigenous women fighting, and the San Pedro prison tour which includes trying the purest cocaine in the world).

Marina sits window-side snapping photos of hundreds of pink flamingoes in the shallow, calm water surrounding the train tracks on which we ride. To either side of us, dry mountains in the distance.

 

The scenery is stunning.

The rather bold goal of this trip was for us to sort out what to do with our lives moving forward.

The questions needing answers revolved mostly around career, work-life balance, etc.

While clarity on these matters is far from being reached, the past 1.5 months on the road have confirmed what I’ve known since that first day at Queen’s university in September of 2004; I love this girl.

(As I’m secretly trying to write this in my notepad, Marina is pretending to be asleep with her sunglasses on, trying to get a glimpse of what I am writing. She’s curious, that one.)

She’s going to hate my putting this pic online.

Love is one of those issues I’ve historically have had difficulty with.

How does one define love?

It can’t be seen, heard, or quantified – it is not tangible.

That’s a difficult concept to grasp for a quantitative and analytical mind.

This is the same struggle I have with the concept of faith.

What I have come to realize over the past year or so is that for me, personally, love is captured by moments.

These are rarely the sappy romantic moments perpetuated by Hollywood; a bed of roses, a box of chocolates, and a John Mayer love ballad are (almost) never present.

We could be eating sushi while watching some silly film, or we could be riding a derelict Bolivian train in the desert (like at this particular moment) and for a period of time I become overwhelmed with emotion.

Just then, Marina usually catches me staring at her.

“What are you doing?” she’ll ask.

“Oh, nothing. Just realizing how much I love you.”

“But why? I’m just eating dinner and watching tv.” (Marina always seeks for my reasoning, and during these times my reasoning skills are severely hampered.)

“I don’t know, I just do.”

“OK, then. I love you too”, she’ll readily reply and hesitantly return to her original activity (like pretending to sleep with her sunglasses on).

In that moment, I have no doubts about one important aspect of my future; it will be shared with this woman.

……..

Oh, wow! “Mamma Mia” is just starting to play on the train tv. It looks as though I will have to endure the torture of Meryl Streep attempting to sing for the 2nd time in my life. Love is overcome by its antithesis – an emotion directed at everyone responsible for bringing this horrific film to reality.

Peter

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