When I was twelve years old our family moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to the little town of Elburn, Illinois. The uprooting was ostensibly necessary for my father to find work. He’d been laid off at RCA and the job hunt out East had not gone well.
Departure from Lancaster was a painful period for my brothers and I. We all had our social networks and were involved in sports up to our necks. We loved the place and the Cudworth brothers were a part of the flow at Lampeter-Strasburg High School.
I had already discovered my distance running ability during a fitness test in gym class at Martin Meylin Junior High. Wearing Converse basketball shoes and running on a cinder track, I covered two miles in a twelve minute time trial in 7th grade.
Running through life
Running would turn into a lifetime avocation. Yet I’m not sure what would have happened had we stayed in Pennsylvania. Soccer was the sport of choice in our family, not cross country. So was baseball, not track and field. Thus, it all might have turned out very differently had my father found a job and our family had stayed in Pennsylvania.
Yet I have no regrets, and the curiosity about those possibilities have faded with time. Even the keen friend I’d left behind, a guy that had shared those critical years from age five through age 12, turned out to not be interested in reminiscing about what it was like to grow up together.
He was a popular, handsome kid with three sisters that taught him the realities of getting along with women. Yet it didn’t help him all that much when it came to his own romance. Somewhere in his 7th grade dating relationship with a girl named Brenda, one of the prettiest and most popular girls in school, things went a bit off track. She may have played him against some other guy, and that hurt him deeply.
He was already the product of an apparently bitter divorce between his parents. His father was a forceful man, and his mother could be a blunt pragmatist at times. That left little room or time for commiseration on such things as 7th-grade girlfriends. So he and I would attempt to talk things out.
Running from home
To get to his house, I’d run from my home at 1725 Willow Street Pike across the practice range and through the parking lot of the Meadia Heights Golf Club. I loved the feeling of running on that soft turf. In wintertime, we crossed the fairways during our comings and goings, but in summer we respected and avoided cutting across the fairways without checking carefully for golfers. We knew the rules and respected them.
Usually, if we needed to talk, my friend and I would crawl up into the giant apple tree in his front yard. That’s where we’d perch with broad limbs between our legs and talk about girls, sports and getting along in life.
At the time when his girlfriend was giving him trouble, the song “No Time Left for You” by the Guess Who had just been released as a single. He pored through those lyrics for solace and to vent his anger and being played in love.
(No time left for you) On my way to better things
(No time left for you) I found myself some wings
(No time left for you) Distant roads are callin’ me
(No time left for you)
No time for a summer friend
No time for the love you send
Seasons change and so did I
You need not wonder why
You need not wonder why
There’s no time left for you
No time left for you
Now, you know that when a person is in love and hurt by their lover, there is a tendency to sometimes embrace that ache because the pain is delicious. To care deeply is fulfilling somehow. It’s like the middle of a distance race in which you’re pushing yourself hard and the pain starts to set in. Your body aches and your heart is pounding in your chest. You’re taking in breath after breath for all you’re worth and living on the edge. Love is like that at times. It tests our ability to persevere and hang on. To prove ourselves. It’s an ugly and beautiful truth at the same time. Evolution in action.
So my buddy was hurting. Angry. Confused. Not wanting to go on, yet determined to cling to the thought of her love. But it didn’t help that his family left held echoes of that sort of rift.
These days, that girl is married to a man from the same class at school. So the 7th grade romance was never meant to be. Such is life.
When it came time for our family to move away in 1970, my friend and I retreated to the golf course to talk. It was late spring and we sat on the tee box of a drop hole overlooking a deep Pennsylvania gorge. “Why does everything I love have to go away?” he asked.
Years later, when he happened to move to the Chicago area, I called him up and tried to rekindle the friendship. But life had intervened. He’d gotten married and had three kids, then divorced. He was remarried, and seemingly happy, yet he wanted little to do with talking about the past.
His nature was conservative, it turned out. So perhaps we’d have ultimately split up as friends somewhere in high school if I’d stayed back East. Somewhere along the way those differences in personalities would have manifested in some way. It might even have been an argument over a girl. Or it might just have happened naturally. Friends often drift apart during high school and college. We meet new people, and we change. Surely that boyhood friendship is irreplaceable, yet as we age, our personalities solidify.
In the first two years after I moved, my friend and I tried to keep in touch. I remember a long distance phone call from him when we were both still in 8th grade. Somehow he asked me the question. “Do you still beat off?”
Well, I was in 8th grade. What the hell do you think the answer was?
“I quit that,” he told me.
That was somehow important for him to tell me. That he’d cut himself off from self- pleasure on some sort of principle that I would possibly have understood, but never could have abided.
I remember feeling like something had broken between us at that point. We’d always competed with each other in many ways, and that’s a good thing. Yet somehow that question was a throw-down of sorts. Perhaps he knew that was a game in which I could never win. In turned out that he was willing to hold back on some aspect of the human spirit and its expression through the flesh that would distance us permanently. I had been part of his pain growing up, and his response to pain in life was denying himself pleasure, even when it was a youthful and essentially harmless indiscretion.
And the song lyrics came back to me. “No time left for you….no time left for you…”
In the intervening years, I’ve seen where this brand of repression has its cost across many fronts. The idea that you can shield yourself from the pain and grit of life by becoming more conservative is something I understand, because I’ve seen it in a thousand million people. Science is even discovering that our conservative and liberal minds are essentially wired differently. Some people simply think conservatively because that’s how their brains process stimuli. Then they develop gut instincts that tell them to batton down the hatches and contain the unpredictables rather than doing the liberal thing by going out to find even more trouble. It makes plenty of sense. But it has its limits.
In the end, we need a little of both, conservatism and liberalism. It might not help to be a liberal without limits, but neither does it help to be so damn repressive you lose compassion or become fearful or angry about anyone different than you. And how many times do we see a politician who spends their time raging against some issue of sexuality or morals only to find out they are cheating on their wives or denying their own homosexuality? Pretty much this happens weekly.
Fighting real battles
In the recent movie Fury about a tank crew in World War II, the personalities of the people in the tank vary widely. The tank commander is a complex, determined sergeant. The driver is a God-fearing, bible-quoting man. The gunners are a highly contrasting Latino and an American thug that have been through hell and back in the war. The last addition to the crew is a young buck named Norman, raw and scared.
But by the time the crew has been through a battle or two with young Norman learning the ropes, they pull together in time to make one last stand against a battalion of Nazi SS troops. Before they do, the sergeant says something important that pulls them all together. “This is home,” he says, glancing quickly around the raw innards of the tank. “Best job I ever had.”
But there’s one more surprise awaiting the bunch. When the Bible-quoting driver comes forth with a verse to inspire them all in battle, he quotes the following verse:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
“Send me.” the driver says earnestly in quoting the passage. The sergeant turns to him and says: “Isaiah 6, chapter 8.” The whole crew erupts in laughter. “That’s right!” the Bible quoter chuckles in quiet admiration. His seemingly godless yet godlike sergeant turns out to know the Good Book after all.
This is home
What matters most in the end is how we apply what we know in life. That sergeant had seen a lot of pain and death, and it had hardened him. But in the moments when it mattered most, he also came through. He did not say “No time left for you.” He said, “This is home.” Remember that next time you go into one of life’s battles. For better or worse, this is home. All of this.