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The Millenium Redemption
Eric D. Lehman
"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." -
Henry David Thoreau

Mounted police blocked our path to Westminster Bridge. People milled about in confusion, desperately shouting to each other from either side of the cordon. Behind the throngs, Big Ben and Parliament glowed ghostly green and pink in the cloudy night. Subhash, Jeremiah, and I stared in anguish at the impenetrable obstacle.
"We shouldn’t have gone for the champagne."
"How can we not have champagne on New Year’s?"
"Let’s go around."
We threaded our way back east through the narrow streets, skirted the giant ferris wheel, then turned north to the river walkways. But another line of bobbies was forming, blocking access to the area along the Thames. We were trapped, barred from the focus of the night’s festivities.
"No way." Subhash shook his head. "I’m going through." He began to shove his way through the crowd toward the police.
"Uhm…I guess we should follow him?" I shrugged and forded the streams of merrymakers. Subhash shouldered right up to the bobbies and slipped between two of them.
"Hey…" One of the officers turned around, just as I pushed past him and his mate. "Hey, stop!"
"I gotta go with him." I turned and continued. Jeremiah followed, holding on to my long riding coat.
"We ought to do something about this." One of the bobbies mentioned, giving up.

Elated, we thrust our way through the crowd to the railing, where strings of bright lanterns swayed in the wind. We were about a hundred yards from the bridge, diagonally across from Big Ben and Parliament. Two hours until a new century. We passed the time reminiscing about a New Year’s Eve we had spent together three years earlier in Times Square. The giant clock face of Big Ben clicked closer to midnight. Spotlights swung around the cloudy sky. Jeremiah pulled out his camera. Three British girls in front of us introduced themselves and we prepared together.
And then, fireworks. Magical, wonderful, sky-filling fireworks. Flames burst out of hidden outlets in the river. Multicolored lights and champagne popped and splattered everywhere. We chugged the bubbly remnants, cheering and shouting. Everyone was kissing and embracing, in one of those brief moments of togetherness we all hope to be a part of.
Finally, the beautiful madness died down and the three Brits invited us along to a house party. They wandered around and we followed them for a while. But they were aimless, weaving this way and that. Jeremiah and I looked at each other. Something passed between us.
"This is about us tonight. Let’s go." I smiled.
"You’re right." Jeremiah nodded. "Let’s go, Sube!"

He glanced at the girls, shrugged, and followed us. As we sauntered towards Westminster Bridge, random women ran up and kissed me. I wished each a happy New Year. "I love your accent!" They told me. I smiled and continued up the road with my friends. We crossed the river and headed north, wading through the sea of garbage in Trafalgar Square. Two hours of the new millenium had passed already. The cold European night began to seep through our jackets and we slowed down, unsure of our destination.
"I’m starving."
"We haven’t eaten since seven."
"Nothing’s going to be open."
But we were wrong. As we stumbled up Charing Cross Road, a line of hungry partiers stretched around one of the city blocks. A fried chicken joint, of all things. But the wait could be hours. Then, I noticed someone peeking out of the door of a nearby Indian restaurant. I pointed.
He nodded. We casually walked over and he knocked, peering through the glass. A small Indian man appeared, glanced at Subhash, and unlocked, letting us in and relocking after us.

Our first meal of the millenium was spicy and rich, a veritable taste explosion. Curries and chutneys, lamb and beef. We bought an expensive bottle of Chateau Neuf-de-Pape and toasted our success. "Always merry and bright!" Discussion focused on our plans for the next few days in Amsterdam. We had already devoured London, strolling down Baker Street, posing at the electrified statue of Churchill, and fooling around with cigars in the Freud House. We had consumed barrels of fine wine, hogsheads of strong ale, and gallons of good British tea. In fact, the previous morning we drank possibly the best tea of our lives at a tea house surrounded by the wet, green lawns of misty Regent’s Park.

In a way, tea had helped bring us here, to this extraordinary place and time. Tea helped build this connection. The first time I had really enjoyed tea was with Jeremiah in high school. We would relax in his parents’ kitchen, drinking Earl Grey and eating homemade nachos, discussing our love lives, our philosophies, our plans for the future. And now, here we were, in that future, sharing another turning point.
The probability for this was slim. Like that pot of perfect tea, long-term friendship between males is elusive. The boundaries are hazy and vague. Competition for females divides us. Our responsibility usually ends at helping each other lie. I had been friends with Subhash for thirteen years, Jeremiah fourteen. That is a long time, long enough to fail many times over.

My friendship with Subhash had miraculously never hit a major snag. On the other hand, Jeremiah and I had occasionally faltered, each time swearing it would never happen again. I had caused one of his girlfriends to dump him. He had kissed girls I was in love with. We had betrayed confidences and talked behind each others’ backs. I had shown a distinct lack of forgiveness for his weaknesses and a remarkable blindness about my own. Each time we had survived, despite this selfishness. But now we lived in different cities, on opposite coasts of North America. The chances we had to reconnect were few.
So, in the fall of 1999, after Jeremiah and I met in New York, I knew that something had to be done. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with him. He had lost something. He was no longer the merry jester I had known. People change, of course. But not like this. He was subdued and silent. A shadow. I thought about my responsibilities in this matter. Should I just let it go? Would he fall out of the loop like so many other friends had over the years?

Fear hamstrung me. Despite the thousands of connections Jeremiah and I had made over the years, I didn’t know what his reaction would be. Maybe it was me who had changed. Maybe I was expecting too much. And who was I to evaluate someone, when I had my own network of problems and flaws? I was scared that no matter what I did, I would lose one of my oldest friends.
I decided to take a risk. Not wanting to use e-mail and dreading a phone conversation, I did something old-fashioned and formal. I sent a letter.

I am writing this serious letter because I am worried about you. Perhaps my worries are unfounded, but nevertheless I will voice them. We haven’t talked a lot since you moved to Cali, which is to be somewhat expected. However, email is easy and I hope that we can begin a dialogue again. Of course, you may be angry after reading this, and not want to speak to me at all. I hope not. I am simply concerned. You may have come to these same conclusions on your own. Perhaps you would have come to them some time in the future. But I feel that I must share them with you.
Are you happy? I mean, really happy? Of course, who is? We would probably say "I’m comfortable." However, there is a huge difference between comfort and happiness. I may not know much of what you’ve done over the past few years, but I know this. You drown yourself in whatever you do. As long as I’ve known you, you have been involved in many things – completely involved, heart and soul. This can be a good thing. However, right now you’re drowning yourself in your work. There is nothing wrong with the work you do, but there is something wrong with it being your life. You even told me that your girlfriend has complained that you spend too much time with work. She’s right. This makes you an incredibly productive worker, an asset to any company, but you end up neglecting everything else.
Please don’t think that this is a critique of your job. As long as you are happy with your work, the job is not a problem. But the job is not all of life. You have so many talents, so many interests that have fallen by the wayside, so much love to give to everyone. I think something, possibly the total involvement you have with the job, may be sucking the life out of you.
The first thing Roger said to me after he told me that he hung out with you was "Budzik’s changed. The spark went out of him or something." This, from Mr. Negative himself. I had to agree. I was depressed after seeing you. In many ways you were still the same old Budzik, but there was something missing, a vitality, an urgency. You have the spirit and the heart to be something more – that just seems extinguished right now.
When we used to sit and talk late into the night, you inspired me. I felt like you would do something, write a masterpiece, become a successful actor, create some amazing computer connection, or start a new religion. I got the feeling that you weren’t satisfied being ordinary. I wouldn’t have finished a novel or even developed my poetry without your influence. Now, I want to try to return that favor.
Some of this sounds like a cheesy inspirational pamphlet. I wish I knew something better to give you, some magic words to open your heart. Some may say that I am overstepping some sort of boundary here, but as one of your oldest friends I would rather you be angry at me and at least be thinking about what I’ve said.
You may disagree with parts or all of this letter. Great. Disagree with me. Show me how you are using your abilities, achieving your potential, becoming your best self. Please. I hope I am wrong. But if I am in the least part right, I urge you to change your life in whatever ways you can. You have so much inside you and to see that go to waste pains me more than you know.
Don’t let the fire inside you burn out.
Your friend, Eric

For months I received silence from San Francisco. Subhash and I made plans to go to London for the Millenium celebration, deciding that we would regret not doing something out of fear or frugality. I arranged a side trip to Amsterdam. We tried to rebuild our own precarious connection with shared experience. I gave up on Jeremiah.
And then, on December 26th, while at my brother’s house in Chicago, the phone rang. My brother picked it up and laughed. "Schmeeb!" A tremor went through my chest. Jeremiah’s code name. Still smiling, my brother handed the phone to me.
"Eric, I got your letter and I thought about it for a long time. I broke up with Courtney. I’m meeting you and Subhash in London in three days."
"What?" I was dumbfounded.
"I talked to Subhash earlier today and I just bought the tickets. I’ll be at Heathrow waiting for you."
Turned out I was wrong about the job. The problem was actually the girlfriend, with whom Jeremiah was simply incompatible. He had become something he was not to satisfy her. Dancing, reading, writing, drama – the things he enjoyed had disappeared from his life. So, he reevaluated. He found the courage to start again. He did what we all must do. Have the strength to care.

The three days after Jeremiah called me were a whirlwind of taxis and airports. Subhash and I met in Philadelphia and headed across the Atlantic. When we finally found our way out of the white labyrinth of Heathrow, a camera flash greeted us. Ahead, behind a flimsy barrier, my friend Jeremiah stood, grinning a face-splitting grin from ear to ear. Sube and I strode up to him, hopped the rope, and I embraced him.
It was one of the finest moments of my life.

© Eric D. Lehman ,Prof - Feb 2004
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