Retracing Encounters: The One That Changed My Life

1. Matthew

One of the great loves of my life came into being the fall that I moved to Nome, Alaska to work at a non-profit radio station. Although I was the youngest member of our community, and he was the oldest, the connection I formed with Matthew was one of the coolest friendships I’ve had the privilege of co-creating over the course of my life. To this day, Matthew and I remain close, although it is difficult to find the time to connect as often as I would like.

Living in Alaska is a cool experience, there is much to explore in terms of the great outdoors, but the state also gives one the opportunity to do a lot of inner exploring. The frigid temperatures, endless summer nights, sunless winter days, sporadic blizzards, and rural/isolated nature of the town I lived in were enough to test the strength of any sane human being. Living there for two years was hard. I think it was especially difficult living in an intentional community while in such an environmentally unforgiving location. At times, community would help get me through the tough days. At other times, it felt like the climate outside, forcing everyone to stay indoors with one another, was pressing on the house like a pressure cooker, aggravating the contents inside. This is the part where Matthew saved the day. Now, three years after moving out of rural Alaska, I still remember the quality human being that Matthew is, not to mention how vital he was in shaping how enjoyable my life was while in Alaska.

I don’t want to get carried away talking about how great the man is. To be honest, he’s a huge jerk. He’s conceited, rude, curses like a sailor, and has countless other qualities that will assure he doesn’t get into heaven. For the most part though, he’s a great guy. I remember thinking, upon meeting him initially, how lucky I was to have been selected to be in a program with him. He was well traveled, had work experience, and also seemed to have a good grasp on life. I knew right away that there was a lot that I would be able to learn from being around him.

And so, over the course of our two years together, I did manage to learn a thing or two from him. Matthew was never afraid of getting to know someone new. There could be a person stopping in town for just a day or two and he would take the time to get to know them, to explore who they were. I think he did this out of curiosity for the world, for getting to know someone new, but I also think he did it just because he’s was a genuinely nice person; he cares about people. I don’t think enough people just care for random strangers anymore these days…but Matthew does. On that note, he also seems to be capable of having a conversation with just about anyone. Not to mention, he’s also genuinely interested in getting to know most people that he happens upon, and he’s not quick to judge them. He gives them a chance. I approach people differently now, with a more open mind.

For me, having Matthew around was a Godsend on many occasions. Over the course of our second winter together, the man and I played over 120 games of chess together. There, sitting across the board from one another many evenings of the week, we passed the time on the unpleasantly cold nights, and would talk about everything ranging from life in community and work to where we hoped to go next in our lives. Our second winter together came after we had already endured 1 ½ Alaska winters, not to mention countless hours at work, 4 other roommates, numerous hikes and adventures, and getting well acquainted with the community around us. For so much of my first two years out of college, Matthew was a cornerstone. Since, I suppose, this was an impressionable time for me, I’m so very thankful that Matthew was a part of it. He blew every stereotype I ever had for straight men in my head out of the water early on, and continued to shock me throughout our time together with how genuinely kind he is. I think, at times, the difficulties of Alaska may have gotten to the two of us, but at the end of the day, I can’t think of someone as indisputably kind as Matthew. The man is love through and through.

Something else I love about him? He’s not afraid to show affection. This is complete rubbish, but I used to test Matthew to see just how comfortable he was with showing affection. One time, without complaint, he even walked around town holding hands with me. I can’t say I can think of another straight man that would do that with me. In the two years we were together, I’m pretty sure he hugged me more times than anyone else has ever hugged me in my life. He doesn’t give “straight-man-double-pat-no-hip-contact” hugs either; they’re the real deal.

Now, with Matthew still a resident of Alaska and me living in South America, I’m pretty sure we’re a good six or seven thousand miles apart from one another, but that’s not what matters. The distance on the map between us may seem grand, but it hails in comparison to the difference having Matthew around in my 21st and 22nd years of life had on me. Although I hope this isn’t the case, because I’d like to meet many more interesting people throughout the course of my time on this earth, I think if I were to never make another friend quite as grand as Matthew, that would be alright. I’m well aware that having crossed paths with him, created a friendship, and learned from his loving nature, I’ve already scored the friendship lottery. The people who are fortunate enough to cross paths with him are so lucky just for getting the chance to know him. I’m so glad I got that chance. So rare these days it is to find someone completely unafraid of loving.

Knowing Matthew has completely changed the way I look at men I come into contact with. He’s redefined my definition of what it means to be a friend. Due to the number of stereotypes he has erased, I now live my life with a new perspective. I look to strangers, to prospective acquaintances and friends, and see a little more hope.

I’m wearing your shoes, Shoes.

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