When I was in the Navy, I used to drink like I was in the military. Never thought much about it until I couldn’t stop thinking about it, then I drank all the time. Irish coffee, liquid lunches, one for the road. I began to subsist on these and other such mind-numbing clichés.
It was a reckless time, and I spent everything the exuberance of youth can afford to pay. I had busloads of friends and truckloads of fun, and I was driving determinedly down the road to nowhere.
Enter Paul Ramirez. The guy who would bring a book to a party. The guy I laughed at.
I resonated the derogatory nicknames for Paul and reverberated insults about his rust-colored Toyota. I’d snicker and sneer and be snide without remorse. I would join my friends and be as cruel as school kids in a playground and feel completely justified. Paul was different, and different wasn’t cool, it was subject to criticism and, like all my friends, I gave lots of it.
One day the trouble I was became the trouble I had. Maybe centrifugal force. Maybe gravity. I don’t know, but there is a velocity of life that moves one quickly about, but should only be traveled in moderation, if at all. This speed peels away the beauty of youth like layers of an onionskin–shining skin that has not yet wrinkled. This speed reveals the most plain ugly truths of the most decadent behaviors of the most promising heirs to the planet. In the most perfectly heartbreaking ways, pretty becomes pathetic.
I knew myself as the guy who knew everything and would sell it to you. I was known as the guy who gave everything a bad name. At the height of this high, I was the walking dead. Spiritually vacant, emotionally void. I barely resembled human. At the bottom of this high, I was to live again, and I was to befriend the man who would help me begin that journey.
My life ricocheted on the day that President George Bush Sr. placed a wreath in the water to honor the dead of the USS Iowa April 19, 1989 turret explosion. First I would stop drinking. Next I would start college. The following May I would quit smoking and remove beef, pork and poultry from my diet. I would start jogging again. I would complete my military obligation and be honorably discharged. I would live and work in Hawaii, study in China, finish my undergrad studies and then earn my MBA. I would discover the path of my relation to God and man.
I would need help.
Enter Paul Ramirez again. At the center of this story is the guy who would bring me back to life. Ironically, the guy I laughed at would be the only man left standing, and as the friends that once surrounded me evaporated, Paul replaced my old ways with fresh air. Miles of motorbikes and days and days of driving; it was the high road, the highway, and a one-way ticket to any destination that would display the wonders of life and the joy of its greatest treasure: true friendship. From Paul I learned a new language. A language that was based on a fraternal doctrine of compassion, trust, and faith, with a spirit that could be captured completely but only momentarily in a word pronounced “BONSAI”! That first and fragile year back from Hell I was taken under the care of someone that would show me an affection and respect deserving a better man than I. I had a heavy heart and troubled mind, but each and every day, Paul was there to hear me and walk me through it. Each and every day, Paul proved himself to be a loyal friend, and I believe that I am here today because of him and his friendship.
It wasn’t a grand event that saved my life–no single, brilliant moment of magazine-cover heroics. It was a daily routine of a thousand unglamorous moments. I think that’s the kind of heroism that is most difficult because quite often one really doesn’t get the credit one deserves in that situation. It’s a sacrifice. It’s a thankless job. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in church but no one really does. It’s something that makes a Hollywood film good enough to watch every year, or something you’d hear in a country music song. It’s not something you’d expect to see in your own life, but I saw it in my life with Paul Ramirez.
This story does not end here, nor does it have to. For me it is a trip down memory lane that I have taken privately a hundred times. For Paul, it’s probably an embarrassment. For all of us, it can be an inspiration. Consider what it takes for someone to consider another person so mindfully and with such genuine concern–especially if the recipient of that concern does not really seem to merit that concern. Paul didn’t have to care; he didn’t have to give so much time and resource. He had other friends, and I wasn’t exactly pick of the litter. So why did he take this more difficult path? How does someone exercise such humanity toward his fellow man? How can we each repeat that exercise over and over again?
I believe Paul had faith in me–faith enough to carry him and me through the greatest personal trial of my life. A trial I do not believe I would have endured had it not been for Paul. Paul’s example will warm my grateful heart until I die, and if I should become a husband and father, then it shall also warm the hearts of my wife and children. Until that day and forever more, Paul’s example of selflessness and compassion will continue to shape my relations with everyone I meet everywhere in the world and Paul himself will remain my silent hero.