Paying dues

For most of us, our lives are wrapped up in family and friends to one degree or another. The closest friends we made were in our early school years, having shared the challenges of graduating to another year of public or high school, dating, getting a driver’s licence. If lucky, we kept some of those childhood friends into adulthood, for who else could possibly bring us down to our true size by re-telling an old, embarrassing story? If unlucky, we lost some of our closest friends, and thus a central part of our lives, for without good friends the best of times mean nothing.

We all grew up in a small, one-industry town. Although the prospects for local employment were good, most of my crowd wanted out. I led the way, into a high-risk occupation. Some of the others followed, and thus we started our various adventures.

I spent years traveling around North America and Africa, paid to do so by the company I worked for. For most of that time I lived out of suitcases in hotels and motels, and out of a duffel bag in tents from the arctic to the mountains, from the bush to the desert. It was a nomadic life, perfect for a young man who wanted to experience the world and its offerings.

There were women in every port, but none that could keep me interested for more than a while. Short-timers, I called them. Some were married, some weren’t. Some had family, some didn’t. On occasion I left a trail of emotional destruction in my wake – never intentional, but often disastrous for those left behind. Don’t get me wrong though – I did have some fabulous relationships with some wonderful women, although none lasted the test of absence or time.

As for my friends, well, they started killing themselves. Or rather, getting killed. Aircraft accidents, car crashes and motorcycle wrecks all took their toll. Even some of the friends I had made in adulthood were being decimated by the occupational hazards of our chosen work. When that started happening, I thought it time to move on to other, less hazardous, things.

Which, eventually, I did.

I had certainly led a charmed life until then. And there was a nagging feeling that I owed something for my good fortune. If only the good died young, then to be sure I was bound for hell, I thought.

I still have that feeling.

* * *

We never know when we will be called on to perform a small kindness or a hero’s mission — or something in between. The reward for doing so – if there can be a reward – is in knowing that perhaps dues were paid for past transgressions in life, and sometimes, love. A small comfort for those of us with many dues to pay.

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