There's no really good place to begin when it comes to Matt and I. We've been close to one another since we were little. I guess you could say it's all been good between us! I know we were typical boys growing up and fighting amongst ourselves was part of growing up together, but I honestly cannot remember a time that I have been upset with him. That's not to say there wasn't, I'm sure of it.
As we discussed this project and this aspect specifically; who we are, I relayed to him that writing about someone else is easy.... writing about yourself is hard! It's probably not the best way to do things, but we agreed to describe each other and that raw honesty was key to making this work. To be quite honest, I wasn't sure how this was all going to turn out but, I trust him. He's my best friend and I have no reason not to! Additionally, we felt it important to remain genuine and authentic in every aspect in order to be able to relate to anyone we meet along the way.
As we've all seen on t.v., there are things that catch our eye and pique our curiosity. Things we want to own, places we want to go, people we'd like to meet are all spurred by what we see, read and hear. I'm no different in that regard. I can say that if ever there was an individual that I'm truly envious of, it is Matt Ward.
As I mentioned above, we have been lifelong friends. There isn't a need to attach a number to it because it doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that true friends will be there for you always and he has.
We grew up in a mountain town in Western North Carolina and to this day it's always been his home. While many left to find success outside the fledgling town, he managed to find success in it. Truth be told, I wondered for a long time how he managed to find success when it seemed others were struggling to survive. Over the years, I realized the answer and I couldn't be happier or more proud.
To understand his success you have to understand what his success isn't. Most associate monetary wealth with being successful, but that couldn't be farther from the truth with him. His calling to be a minister has been the vast majority of his success and has been for some time. It wasn't always like that. He has always had a strong faith, but until he was asked to carry the word of God to the people, he was merely getting by.
Though he tends to stay close to home, he has never shied away from travel nor the opportunity to meet new people. There have been many occasions that I would turn around and he would have struck up a conversation with someone neither of us had seen before. I have to admit that sometimes it was irritating, especially if we had some place to be. Nonetheless, I appreciated the fact that whatever conversation he was having was important to him. He inherently knew that it was a needed one and I believe that the individual he was talking to was the recipient of some much needed humor, compassion or advice. As I write this, he is preparing to return to Africa to continue a project he started some 11 years ago. I have gotten used to our regular conversations and until he returns I'm going to miss that. I wish him nothing but the best and pray for his safe return as this ride would not be the same without him.
I feel it important to mention this about him as it would apply to me as well. The people that have come in contact with us and those that are fairly well acquainted with us, would readily offer up a description of crazy when referring to us. While crazy is generally associated with mental instability, I tend to believe that it doesn't have the negative connotations when it comes to either of our personalities. Think of it in these terms, most have said what we are attempting is crazy. It doesn't make sense they say. I believe that when you take all the amazing and wonderful traits that make up an individuals being and apply them simultaneously, the result is boldness. Boldness incorporates courage, tenacity, integrity and a genuine desire to help even when everyone else tells you it's crazy. So no, I don't think he or I are crazy, I think it's demonstrating boldness at a time when it is desperately needed.
Lastly, I feel the need to explain that we have things in our lives we regret. Most of those things revolve around self improvement though that's not always the case. As I watched his life parallel mine, I noticed that he pretty much did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it, or at least so it seemed. One of our recent conversations covered this and I finally realized that he wasn't doing what I had thought was living life on his terms, rather he was allowing himself to experience life on life's terms. His acceptance of life itself allowed him to find inner worldly peace and granted him the contentment so many of us seek, but struggle to find. He confessed that he passed on opportunities that would have helped him get ahead financially, but how do you put a price on life's little pleasures and moments? You can't and I know he wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. Those gifts he received coupled with the people he shared them with are irreplaceable and despite my envious attitude towards them, I'm glad he had the forethought and faith to embrace those opportunities openly.
I could sit here and write page after page of things that make him the incredible friend that he has been over the years, but I don't think it's necessary nor would it bring to life the brotherly love that we have shared for the last 30+ years. I recently read that the secret to life involves two things. First, in order to live a life free of pain, one must place others first. Secondly, to be truly rich, one must surround him or herself with people of good character. He has done that and lives it on a daily basis. We should all be so fortunate.
I promised Matt that I would put what he wrote in here and even though I originally thought it was a bit embarrassing, I quickly realized that those things he wrote brought back fond memories of us growing up and to deny the embarrassment would be to deny him of his thoughts on our friendship and I couldn't bear doing that.
Before I start expanding on his thoughts, I need to say that we took separate paths in life. My path led me to the US Navy and a career that saw many ups and downs. Over the course of 20 years, I saw several deployments in the Pacific Ocean / Persian Gulf and one ground deployment in Iraq. Except for the short trip from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, I can proudly say that I have circumnavigated the globe, transited both the Panama and Suez Canals and laid beneath a million stars. As a Sailor, we are afforded rare opportunities to see things that remind us of how minuscule we really are.
Growing up, I was the typical boy. I was close to my extended family for the most part until my teenage years arrived and the number of poor choices I made allowed a wedge to be driven between us. By the time I had turned 19, the damage was bad enough that the slightest misstep almost always created dissension. Looking back at it, I think it was a necessary evil, though I hate that it took so long to realize.
As I mentioned earlier, I was the typical kid growing up. I recall Saturday morning cartoons until noon, playing outdoors and the plethora of toys that helped foster my imagination. I was creative, though I couldn't draw very well nor could I carry a tune if my life depended on it. My imagination often got the better of me and usually resulted in a stern lecture from one or both of my parents or the occasional belt from my father. As a kid I had fairly large pool of talent from which I drew my influences, my grandfather, uncles, aunts, father and mother. Granted I went about it my own way, but I paid attention and learned something from each of them. Nonetheless, the only time I didn't into trouble with my imagination was when I was surrounded by a large pile of Lego's or my rather large collection of G.I. Joe figures. To this day, my mother will tell me that she came across one of them somewhere in the yard.
My mother would be the first to tell you I was always a free spirit and had a desire for adventure. The fact that I was a bit of a daredevil always made her uneasy. There was no shortage of breathless moments when it came to the adults in my life. Whether it was the swimming pool I dug in the basement with Matt or the minibike accident as a kid that sent me to the ER and scared my parents half to death. After I had enlisted, my mother told me how proud she was of me though she was a bit surprised that I made it to my 21st Birthday.
Work ethic was never really much of a problem for me. I learned early on what it takes to be productive. It was not uncommon for my parents to go away for a day or two only to come home to find out that instead of some wild party, I had spent the time cleaning or doing things around the house. Truth be told I wasn't much on wild parties, though I did have a few people over on occasion and things got out of hand, the house was still standing when my parents came home.
One thing that has always stood out and has been hard on me over the years is my penchant for being helpful. I have always had a hard time watching someone struggle and it literally pains me at times when I fell like I'm not doing enough. Not sure exactly where the extreme form comes from, but I know without question where I learned the basics of it. I honestly can't think of a better personal trait than this. I am blessed that my mother is who she is. I don't think that a simple thank you would suffice for all that she taught me over the years, so I try to thank her the best way I know how and utilize what she taught me to help others. It has, however, not come easy for me. There have been times when it has exhausted me mentally, physically and emotionally. On occasions a ruse has been employed to get what was needed and I fell for it. Over time I learned to recognize the situations that would likely take advantage of me and I made the decisions whether or not to help based off who it was going to benefit. I still get burned, but at least I have control over it.
I'm not the same person most people knew growing up. To be quite honest, my appearance is deceptive to most. People see me, then they hear me and most aren't certain what to think. It's my own defense mechanism that I use to protect myself and those around me. The ones that truly know me, know my heart and how I value them in my life. Matt probably understands that better than anyone.