Twenty plus years and 30k plus dollars later, we finally purged our off-site storage unit. The only thing I recall ever retrieving from that sink hole was a few cubicle pieces...until Monday. I left that unit for the final time with two items --one practical, one priceless. We'll find occasional use for the furniture blanket, but the 31 year old picture from our epic 1985 dive trip to Rum Cay Bahamas will be cherished until I blow my last bubbles.
That's my hometown bestie, Frank, on the left. Sadly, his last bubbles came way too early. Discovering that buried picture treasure brought a flood of memories back. Memories that may have meaning to many, as we slosh around the confusing cultural tidewaters grasping for anything buoyant enough to keep us afloat. The rest of Frank's story may not be the life preserver you're seeking, though I do hope it will bring a welcomed fresh perspective on this thing called "life" and those with whom we share it.
I first met S. Frank Mattox in the band room at Hazelwood Junior High School in New Albany, Indiana –our hometown. We were 12 years old. I last saw him at the Ocean Air Restaurant in downtown Indianapolis in 2006. We were fifty then. So, the bookends that marked the beginning and end of our life together –from blowing our trumpets in little girls’ ears to pontificating in our usual politically incorrect fashion over a fine meal, were not unlike many of the exciting chapters in between. Whenever Frank and I got together, there was always plenty of hot air to go around.
According to John Eldredge, author of the runaway best-seller, Wild At Heart, the secret of a man’s soul is revealed by three innate and very powerful desires for:
Eldredge writes, “Life is not a problem to be solved; it is an adventure to be lived. That’s the nature of it and has been since the beginning when God set the dangerous stage for this high-stakes drama and called the whole wild enterprise good. He rigged the world in such a way that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives….”
I’ve known few men who pursued “adventures to live” as passionately and successfully as did one Shrewsbury Franklin Mattox –my best friend for many years, my partner in high adventure (and the occasional petty crime). In reflecting over our friendship of four decades, I came to realize how dull life could have been, but for the always open invitation to join Frank’s great adventure.
I used to introduce Frank as my co-partner in crime –my accomplice in nine of the ten worst things I had ever done. Truth told, I thought I was giving him a much undeserved benefit of the doubt on #10. However, in reflecting upon my life with Frank, I realized that the true highlights were not bad things at all, but rather wonderful adventures that not only defined our friendship, but did much to define who I am as a man today.
Perhaps one day, I’ll chronicle the details of my great adventures with Frank. For now, I want to pay tribute to my best friend for being there when I:
Continuing with Eldredge, God “rigged the world in such a way that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, which is to say, only when we live by faith. A man just won’t be happy until he’s got adventure in his work, in his love and in his spiritual life.”
Few who knew Frank would describe him as a “man of faith”, but all who knew him know that he embraced life as a wonderful adventure to be lived to the fullest. Eldredge’s writings have helped me see that Frank’s unquenchable thirst for adventure was actually his way of living a life of faith…the kind of life we were all meant to live. The Bible has much to say about faith, but the distilled essence can be found in two simple verses:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Hebrews 11:1,6)
Admittedly, I am writing this more for myself than for anyone who might stumble upon these musings. It seems a much needed step in the grieving process –a process that began nine years ago, but as I found out this week, continues to this day. Although we often went a year without seeing each other, whenever Frank and I did get together, it was as if time had stood still since last we met. Yet, of course it hadn’t.
I wish we had spent more time being real with one another about today and less time reminiscing about yesterday. We could have done so much more to help one another through the many difficult times that we were experiencing. Looking back, I think we tended to reach out after a crisis had passed rather than in the midst of it. Perhaps this was because neither of us wanted to appear weak to the other? An apparent downside to the profound respect each had for the other.
Advice? Cherish your friends. Reach out to them in joy and in sadness…in good times and bad. Let them know you care about them even when you wonder if they care about you. Hearts are not bound by time and distance. Don’t let anything come between your heart and the hearts of your friends. In this day of email, instant messaging, cell phones and text messaging there’s just no excuse for losing touch with your friends. So, don’t make excuses…make your friends’ day by reaching out to them.
S. Frank Mattox was a prominant attorney in New Albany, Indiana. He died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack on October 6, 2007. His obituary appeared in the New Albany Tribune on October 9.