French tradition in a lasting friendship

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In 1974 two wide-eyed and bushy-tailed Missouri guys, then in their mid-20s, took off from Paris on shiny new Motebecane bicycles with the only goal of ending up in Munich, Germany. It was a time before life would demand their serious attention, before Richard would be raising a family in the Bay area and I would be sitting here looking at a column deadline. It was a time after the breezy college fratboy days we had shared. We were looking for an adventure, one that would change our lives.

After I proposed the trip in one of the many letters we had exchanged during the 1970s, as we were both struggling toward some version of mature manhood, Richard enthusiastically agreed. "We'll be reckless," he wrote back. "We'll let life whip us around. Screw reality, we have our own story."

We were full of romantic notions about life and its possibilities, full of questions. And, if it isn't obvious, we were each a bit lost in our lives.

Down the road from Paris, we found ourselves jumping out of bed every morning, mounting our bikes like charging steeds and taking off down the scenic back roads of France with a shout, "It's a good day to die!" One day, after we had rowed on the River Cher, Richard went on before me while I dealt with a flat tire. We promised to meet up in Montrichard for tea.

But it was never to be. We lost each other that day and continued our journeys solo, never finding each other.

The trip, although it was ill-fated, did change our lives forever. Richard stayed in Germany and I returned to the States. Our lives now diverging, we each managed to find our own version of "mature manhood." And we remained great friends, returning to Europe to mutually celebrate every decade-turning birthday.

On the recent occasion of our 60th, we chose to return to Amboise. Before our friends and families arriving for the party, we took a few days for ourselves to re-enact the part of our ill-fated bike trip that has remained a touchstone and an enduring subject of speculation between us.

From Amboise, we rode south through the forest to Chenenceau. Just as we had 33 years ago, we shouted "It's a good day to die!" as we careened down the hill to the chateau.

Thirty-three years later, Richard and I finally rode together into Montrichard, and yes, we had tea there.

I often think I haven't learned as much as I should in those 33 years that passed away so quickly. I still don't know why this moment in our lives has remained so significant to us. But this I know: A good and true friendship is a fortune in its finding, a tragedy in its losing, and a blessing in its keeping.

In a letter to Richard I recently discovered, written in 1974, I wrote: "Something blacked out between the scenes. Nothing is ever like it was but there is a true and timeless feeling that can overcome even blackness. Our lives will probably now become, in the making of them, one long less-than-heroic battle against trivia, leaving us covered in the dust of the chariot gone by. Perhaps classic friendships. like the one we began back on the pledge porch of the Sigma Nu house, cannot survive. But perhaps something will take shape from our efforts, even if only a paler copy. There will be many demons from the past and life's enslavements that will interfere. But we can try, my friend. We can try."

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com For more on the topics covered in Healthspan, visit his Web site, www.HealthspanWeb.com.

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