After college, and a short jaunt in NC, I ended up in Augusta, GA. It was there that I met a girl, I’ll call “S.” S and I dated for a few months, and decided that since neither of us were prepared to get married, we’d stop seeing each other and remain friends. During that same time, I met Barry Howell. Barry and I became good friends, and Barry was dating Lori, who had graduated from UGA, and was a part of Chi Alpha while there. Chi Alpha was a college ministry there in Athens. We made countless trips from Augusta to Athens, the three of us, to visit with her Chi Alpha friends and the town itself.
It was there that I first really fell in love with a coffee shop, Blue Sky Coffee. It was the perfect picture of community, and we visited every time we came to Athens. While I was in Augusta, I decided to start a coffee shop on the campus of Augusta State to build community on a commuter campus, the original “social” media. That coffee shop would become successful, and it wasn’t long before I was asked to open a coffee shop in downtown Athens with Chi Alpha, as a true community coffee shop with an emphasis on serving others and building community.
I made the move to Athens, and immediately started to work on the coffee shop and building community. It wasn’t long before we had a vibrant community coffee shop, and we achieving our goals of building community. One night I headed up to a small town north of Athens, to a concert at a little coffee shop. While there, I was surprised to run into my old girlfriend, S, who was now going to a small college there. We hit it off again right away, and started dating again soon after. And it wasn’t long before we got engaged.
While engaged, S introduced me to her cousin Trevor, who also lived in Athens. We became good friends, and it wasn’t long before Trevor announced he was getting married. He and his fiancé Erin thought it would be great if S and I were in the wedding and bridesmaid and groomsman. We said, “of course!” A month before my own wedding, S decided to break off the wedding, I was devastated. Trevor asked me if I still wanted to be in the wedding, knowing it would likely be hard for me to be around all their family. I decided I needed to do it.
The night of the rehearsal dinner, I arrived at the Ruby Tuesday, took a deep breath and walked in. I tried my very best to keep my composure, it was the first time I’d seen my ex-fiance and her family since the decision. I pretended that i had it all together, but it was clearly an awkward situation for me. It was also awkward for someone else, a gal seated diagonal to me at the table. She had grown up with the bride, and knew no one else at the table. And since the bride was seated at the end, and in lots of other conversations, she was shy. She was a college student in NC, getting a teaching degree.
It was out of that awkwardness that we were drawn to each other conversation. And conversation turned to playful flirting, again, as both of us pretended like we weren’t in a awkward situation. The wedding took place, and again, we playfully flirted, with no real purpose other than the joy of it, and we headed to the reception, where it was much of the same. Now, however, I had lots of friends there, and it was much less awkward. At the end of the night, on my way out, I ran into the gal who had made the weekend so much more bearable. We said our goodbyes, basically “have a great life” and I left. That was it. I didn’t even get her last name.
A couple of weeks went by, and I couldn’t stop thinking of this girl. Although I had ZERO intentions of connecting with someone at the wedding, I simply wanted to get through it without breaking apart, I found myself thinking of her constantly. Remembering every touch, every word, seeing every smile in my mind. I was able to track her down through the bride, and we connected via email. She had been thinking of me, and we started emailing each other every day. Then, calling. Then, instant messaging each other. It wasn’t long before we both just knew it, that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with each other. We decided we’d wait, until some time had gone by, so her parents didn’t think we’d rushed into it.
We started visiting each other every other weekend, driving back and forth between Athens and High Point, NC. One Friday afternoon, I got a call from her Mom, that on her way to see me, she’d went off the road, overcorrected, went across traffic and flipped her car several times, coming to rest upside down. I immediately packed some clothes, the ring I’d gotten for her, and headed to NC. When I got there, she (amazingly) only had a few scratches, bruises and was very thankful to walk away virtually unscathed. A real miracle. I proposed to her the next day, and we’ve been married for eleven and a half years.
An old friend from Augusta and I were having dinner a few months ago, and he asked me about the guy I used to come to Chi Alpha with. And it took several minutes for me to even remember his name. “Barry. Oh yeah, Barry Howell.” I’d not thought of him in probably 10 years, but as I thought of it, I realized had it not have been for meeting him, I would not have known about Chi Alpha. I wouldn’t have been asked to move to Athens to open a coffee shop. If I didn’t move to Athens, I wouldn’t have gotten engaged to S.
If I didn’t get engaged to S, I wouldn’t have met Trevor, and asked to be the wedding. And that means I wouldn’t have met April, who is not only my wife, but my best friend, my lover, my biggest supporter and my joy. All because I had a friend named Barry. You can never know the impact you have in and on someone’s life, because you don’t often get to see it play out completely for them. But I can assure you this, none of it is unimportant, irrelevant, inconsequential, or not valuable. It is absolutely a part of a much bigger picture that you don’t know, can’t control, and may not even get to see the results from.
So, invest in your friendships. Be thankful and grateful for those people in your life, the people you surround yourself with. Encourage as often as you can. Love as hard as possible. Forgive as fast as you can. And remember that everything happens for a reason. Cherish each moment you have with your friends and family and bask in the mystery of life. You never know the impact you’ll have.
(I’m also happy to report, that I’m happily still friends with everyone in this story, except the very person that allowed it to happen. Hope he’s well.)