By Michael Gos
As this winter drags on interminably, I find myself thinking about a January day about a year ago. It was 23 degrees, foggy and sleeting as four lonely cars made their way across the desert from the Gage Hotel in Marathon to the Chisos Mountain Basin in Big Bend National Park. It is strange how it all came about. My then fiancé and I decided we wanted to get married at the Window Overlook in the park. We loved the idea of standing between the Window on one side and Casa Grande on the other as we took our vows. It took several weeks to get all the proper permits and to line up a minister to officiate in such a remote location. When it finally came together, we shared a sense of relief as well as excitement. It was really going to happen.
A few weeks before the trip we casually sent out announcements to our close friends telling them of our plans. Because it was an 11-hour drive from Seabrook, we didn’t send invitations. It would be irrational to think people would be willing to make that trip and an invitation would put undue pressure on people we cared about. The announcement was meant as a courtesy. We just wanted them to know what we were doing.
But before the day was out, the phone calls began coming in. People wanted to know where to make hotel reservations, how long we were planning on being there and what they should wear.
So on this frigid day 10 people made their way across the desert—people from Seabrook, San Antonio, Uvalde and even Indiana. I remember feeling absolutely thrilled that this was my circle of friends.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was young, I didn’t fully understand just how important my friends were in determining what was going on in my life and how much influence they had in who I was becoming.
In my twenties, I had a group of friends that could best be described as underachievers—and I fit right in. We all saw ourselves as victims to one degree or another. Most of us were un- or at least underemployed. I felt that, because my life was just like those of everyone else I knew, I was “normal.” In essence, my circle of friends affected my worldview. They allowed me to define normalcy downward.
I’m not sure how it happened, but in my thirties, I found myself with an entirely new set of friends. These people were very different from those who came before. Among them were a business owner, an attorney, an engineer and a professor. It wasn’t long before I turned my attention to changing myself from a slacker to a contributing member of society. It was then that I first began to suspect that there was some connection between the way my life was going and the people I surrounded myself with.
We don’t always have a choice of the people in our lives and sometimes that can be a real problem. For a number of years I had a person in my life that I was spending a good deal of time with because we were related. Whenever the family got together, and that was often, he and I would naturally gravitate toward one another, though I don’t know why. He was very different from my other friends. He was obsessed with “stuff.” There was a new, bigger car every year, the houses he lived in kept getting larger and more expensive, and then there were the toys: ATVs, camping trailers, expensive jewelry, vacations, etc. And of course, there was also massive debt. I remember being shocked at my response to him. While I had no desire for the things he was collecting, I still felt a little jealous. Fortunately, when that relationship waned, I went back to being myself.
Today, my closest friends all share a belief that the most important thing in life is the people we choose to share it with. These friends are all successful in their careers and in other aspects of their lives as well, but they understand what really matters and they live their lives reflecting that belief. The fact that they came as far as 1,500 miles to share this moment with us was a clear demonstration of what they see as important. And I find I share the life view they hold.
Do we choose our friends because they share our views on what is important in life? Or do we come to adopt the life views held by our circle of friends? My experience is that it is the latter. Choosing the people who will be our friends is one of the most important decisions we make. Our friends affect our priorities and our worldview. I’ve found that I learn from my friends and they have a great influence on me. If I choose my friends badly or am forced into extensive contact with people who have destructive worldviews, I start to make bad decisions and my life takes a turn for the worse. But when I choose my friends well, things can only get better.
We had the ceremony at the Window Overlook in spite of the fact that we could see neither the Window nor Casa Grande through the fog. It was bitterly cold and sleeting the entire time. You couldn’t have drawn up an uglier day. Yet no one complained.
The wedding went off without a hitch. We knew time was of the essence given the weather, so when we finished, we hurried out of the basin before the winding mountain road iced over and the park management closed it down. It turned out we made it down the mountain just 15 minutes before the road became impassible. As our caravan made its way back across the desert for a celebratory dinner at the Gage, the sleet turned to snow.
I have to be honest; I hate snow. I came to Texas because I woke up in Indiana one day in April, to a blizzard that featured 16 inches of snow and whiteout conditions. I had had enough. I spread the word that I was looking for a university with beaches and palm trees and later that spring I moved to Houston. In fact, I hate snow so much that it is the only four-letter word I don’t allow my students to use in class. But this evening, in the desert, I had to admit it wasn’t so bad. We partied well into the night and when we finally returned to our rooms we walked through four inches of unblemished, newly fallen snow.
Today, when I think of the cold and snow that day, I am not so repulsed. I still don’t care to ever see snow again, but I also have another thought. I am reminded of a group of people who decided on their own that they wanted to share this day with us—even if we did choose to do it in the worst weather possible in the middle of nowhere. And I feel that thrill all over again.