The Hard Way
Well, as some of you may have noticed, it’s been a little while since I have posted anything. I have been preoccupied with MBA classes and busy working a new job as well. Pretty run of the mill type of stuff, but nothing that should keep me from writing stories as I usually do.
And it is not because I lack ideas or content. In fact, some of my most outstanding outdoor accomplishments occurred quite recently and I’ve been anxious to share the tales. Still, I just haven’t felt much like writing…
You see, on November 25th, 2014, Cody Schuler, an adored son, brother, and friend cherished by many, and one of my greatest mentors, lost his multi-year battle with cancer.
Cody had gone back to New Jersey for treatments a little while ago, but in the hustle and bustle of my life in the past months, I forgot it had been sometime since he and I had spoken. I even thought about calling him in the weeks before he passed away, but again, something distracted me.
I never made the call.
Thinking about it now, I wonder how much distraction there really was, or if I was just too afraid; too afraid to pick up the phone to hear the reality of my good friend’s situation. Maybe deep down I was thinking if I put it off, everything would somehow turn out okay and be back to normal in a few months, just like the way he always pulled through in the past.
But it doesn’t matter what I was thinking now. I sit staring at Cody’s face, smack in the middle of my favorites section in my cell phone contacts. The chance to talk to him again will never come. A song from Eric Church called “The Hard Way” crosses my mind. The parallels of the last verse and chorus to the situation I am in now tear me apart.
“Only fools don’t take the time of day, They stay too busy runnin’. To stop just once and tell their Dad, Just how much they love him. That’s a lesson I wish I woulda learned, Before that phone call came an’ it was her. No, Momma never had to say a word, I knew it was too late. That’s a lesson I wish I didn’t learn the hard way.”
I first met Cody at Rockhurst University when I joined Pi Kappa Alpha. It wasn’t long before I found myself looking up to him in every possible way. His outlook on school, work, business, relationships, politics, social justice, religion, God, the fraternity, and much more, was something I wanted to emulate completely. He was a born leader, charismatic in a way that the room would fall silent when he spoke. He could be fierce if necessary, but never disrespectful. Every word and action of his I ever witnessed was filled with kindness and compassion for those around him.
All one has to do is scroll through Cody’s Facebook to see that his whole life has pretty much revolved around giving to others. His constant, happy demeanor disguised his condition so perfectly that he had me convinced, along with many others I’m sure, that he was practically cured just this summer. The amount of courage it must have taken to conceal the true nature of his situation from almost everyone is mind boggling. The last thing Cody wanted was to be a burden on others by bringing them into his battle.
And I couldn’t even find the courage to call him on the phone.
I will wholly regret that decision the rest of my life. I can never go back to say goodbye. But even though he is physically gone now, I wonder if it is truly goodbye forever. The only solace I can find stems from refusing to believe I missed my last chance to see or talk to him again.
The impact he made on my life and many others was profound. We all have stories about him and they relay the same message: he was an incredible person, the kind of person we meet once in our lifetimes.
But there is one experience in particular I shared with Cody that I would like the rest of the world to know about as well. It is a simple one, but its significance did not become evident to me until the past few weeks.
A Fishing Story
Early this past year, Cody and I shared several weekends together down at my family’s property. Of the many activities available to us, fishing was by far the one he wanted to do the most, but it was still too cold. We both waited anxiously for spring and summer to arrive. I could always hear the excitement in his voice each time I told him of past outings catching nearly a hundred bass in a day on the strip pit lakes. He wanted to come along so badly on one of those trips, but even as the weather warmed, our hectic schedules made it difficult to find an ideal time we both could go.
After several weekends in a row of conflicting schedules, he jokingly remarked we needed to get it figured out soon because he “was really dying to get down there.” While he thought that was pretty funny, I wasn’t so fond of the joke. He told me I needed to “lighten up.” Somehow he still had me laughing. His attitude was infectious… Luckily, the next weekend we finally made it happen.
It was a perfect, Saturday morning as we pushed off from the dock to begin our day of fishing. I was excited because my previous trips yielded dozens of bass in just a couple hours. I wanted Cody to get that experience too to take his mind off things. I handed him one of the 7 rods I had rigged up for us. He asked whether I was sure that wasn’t overkill. I assured him nothing involving fishing is ever overkill. “Okay, Mahoney,” he said laughing.
We began throwing our lines in. No immediate bites for either of us had me switching to a new bait about every 5 minutes to find what worked. Cody just kept throwing the first thing I gave to him. An hour passed and we still hadn’t caught a fish. I began to get frustrated. Now if you ask anyone who has gone with me, they will tell you I can be fairly intense about fishing. So it’s really not surprising I would get frustrated. But it was upsetting that day more so because I wanted the trip to be memorable for Cody. And because I am lucky to have fished so much and experience quite a bit of success, memorable to me meant catching a lot of fish. Cody was soon listening to me complain about what a horrible day it was.
Several more hours passed and we both caught a few bass here and there. By the end, we maybe landed 7 or 8. It turned out to be a truly boring day of fishing compared to normal outings on the same lake. But, our conversations about the fraternity, girls, and politics (our three favorite topics to philosophize on) made the day fly by. The only interruptions were my random interjections of name calling towards the uncooperative fish.
We finally got the boat back to the dock and packed up everything to leave. I went into the shed by the lake to put away some gear. After coming back out and closing the door behind me, I turned to see Cody standing near the edge of the water, looking out across the lake. It was a truly magnificent scene. Not just the lake, but the scene I was observing of Cody admiring where he was and what he was witnessing at that moment.
On the way home, Cody could not stop talking about how great of a time he had. We discussed plans to make more trips during the summer and brainstormed about what type of gear he could get for his saint of a girlfriend, Tracy, so she could go fishing with him as well. When I dropped him off back in Kansas City, he was incredibly happy about the day. I was still feeling disappointed about us not catching more fish…
What Cody Taught Me
Although I complained many times throughout the day on that fishing trip, Cody was completely content. Memorable to him wasn’t about catching a lot of fish. It was simply about just being out there. It was only an escape for one day from the hardships he faced, but he cherished every moment. He was not unhappy a single second being out there with me not catching fish. To him, that experience was a dream, and I am only now fully realizing that.
It puts things into perspective for me knowing how lucky I am to even have a fishing spot to go, let alone complain about… to be so lucky that a bad day of fishing could be the biggest worry in my life…
That was the least of Cody’s worries. There was no such thing as a bad day of fishing for him.
The significance of that experience finally hit me over the last few weeks since he passed. I finally realized how Cody was a master at fully taking in everything, everywhere he went. No matter what he was doing or who he was with, he was always fully present in the moment enjoying what he had. There was nothing to complain about because it was a gift to be allowed that moment here in the world.
Cody was a role model to me in every way. But his appreciation for life and his ability to live in the moment is something I will take with me for the rest of my time. I might not ever have his same ability, but he will serve as a constant reminder of how I should strive to be.
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