He and I go back many years, back to 1989 or 1990..when we met at Camp Buckskin, each as summer camp counselors. The way I recall it, we first met on a soccer field in the middle of Isabella, MN - not really known for much but moose, ticks, and national forest. But, right there in the middle of nowhere, there's a little camp of about 20 cabins and 4 main buildings and some fields.. where if you throw some t-shirts down in the corners of a perceived "square" you get a field of play. A few more t-shirts thrown down give you goal posts. And then, you add summer camp counselors - young adults from every corner of the globe - US, England, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Germany, Italy...and you end up getting a very nice game of global soccer in the most unexpected place.
So, all these folks descend in the middle of northern Minnesota each year to help behaviorally disturbed youth.. kids with lots of labels (ADD, ADHD, LD, Asperger's, etc.) that result in lots of meds (Ritalin, etc.) and lots of academic and behavioral issues that need attention. Well, for the summer, many of those underpriveleged "get" to visit this camp or are "sent" to this camp, depending on the situation.
Since it doesn't pay much to work with kids - and most teenagers getting ready to head out to college aren't really interested in going into the middle of the woods all summer for very little money - but a nice twin bunk with a wool blanket and cafeteria food and only one day off a week and nothing around to do on your days off but maybe go into that springing metropolis of Ely, MN and maybe eat at the Chocolate Moose or Dairy Queen and buy some new Tevas and do some laundry... well, you get the picture, but generally the Camp pulls in tons of foreign students to staff the camp as the camp hosts the students, pays for their airfare, and then gives a smaller salary to those attending to have spending money. Many came from overseas just to get to the US and then spent a few weeks before and after travelling the US and heading back home, having had an adventure mostly paid for.
Now, at that time, there was one telephone for the entire camp (including the hundreds of kids and staffers), there was NO tv, and there was NO radio. There weren't even newspapers really. You literally stepped outside of this world and back into the "real world" for a day a week over 2 months - if you call Ely, MN the "real" world.
So, the way I recall it, one day.. (back when I was 18), we were entertaining ourselves the days before the kids arrived as we had some free time between "training" sessions and we had a global game of soccer going. Now, 15 years ago, soccer wasn't much of a mainstream sport in the US, but I played in h.s. and played several national camps and was pretty freakin good. So, those games of soccer were pretty competitive as I remember. And there was me, dribbling and showing off through the field of play. And there was Lennart, playing goalie. And so there we were.. me and him.. and I shot a bullet straight on.. and he saved it.. and got the ball back, I dribbled through a few more people and rifled a shot to the lower right corner of the goal and he saved it again.. then I got the ball back and blasted a shot high, even though there weren't goalposts.. and the dude freakin lays out up about 4 feet off the ground and freakin deflects it out.
Dang. I had met the enemy and he was good. Really Good.
So, we talk and I find out he used to play in some Dutch league that was a youth national program or something and he comes out of goal and starts dribbling through most of my team and I take this personally. So, from then on out, it was my personal mission to stop this foreigner from beating me at anything on American soil. After all, I had to defend and honor my country and represent - even if it was just a game of soccer.
Now, it should be said that because I first saw him as the enemy on the field of play, and we were both so much alike in many ways - but different in so many ways, we really didn't get along when we first met. I was brash and cocky and arrogant and smart and all about women and my body. He was quiet, confident, intelligent, and the ladies loved this about him. He was sweet and sensitive and tall - like over 6' and pretty good looking for a Dutchman :) (no, I'm not gay)
So, after our little battle on the field, I'd say we respectfully avoided each other.
Then, my co-counselor decided he wasn't cut out to be a camp counselor with the kids.. I cant' recall the details, but he was some guy from Australia .. Quantos or something was his camp nickname (we all had them and they were given to us by vote from our peers before camp started every year). So, in comes Lennart.. "Starbuck" I think was his name.. given to him cause he resembled the guy from BattleStar Gallactica at the time (old school not that new series that sucks). He walks in the door and says "Hey, I'm your new co-counselor."
Dang. Dude. So I remember thinking for a second "this is gonna be a long, long summer". Knowing Starbuck, now, I'm sure he thought the same thing.. or maybe he didn't. He was always a better person that way.
So, over time, we found we had so much in common. And over more time, we realized we really complemented each other well with our kids - the 8 boys assigned to our cabin that we took care of. I was hard, he was soft. I was brash, he was quiet. I was opinionated, he was open. But, sometimes, it would reverse.. regardless, we fit very well as a team... and we did very well together.. and I learned much from him.
I learned that I was really more like him at heart, but had abandoned that part of myself years ago in high school because I wanted to survive and be popular and get the good looking girls and go to the cool parties and not have to worry about a ride to school each day. I didn't have much growing up, so I learned to get what I needed when I needed it.
Lennart reminded me of who I really wanted to be. He reminded me that I could do without and that the whole of the world was inside our heads and hearts, and not in Things.
So, needless to be said, we became best of friends. For years, I would refer to him as "My Best Friend In The World" as he literally lived in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Recently, actually as a result of 9/11, our friendship changed and has never, since, been quite the same. After 9/11, we engaged in a spirited and heated and heartfelt debate about the US and its roles in world affairs. I felt outraged and violated, as many Americans did. I'd say it was fair to say that he felt more detached about it and I interpreted his words and thoughts as indicating that he and the rest of the world felt like the US had it coming for being a bully in world affairs for so long.
Regardless, we lost a part of our friendship in world politics. At times, I abandoned our friendship because I felt like friendship should preceed political affiliations and sometimes I felt like I was being judged by what our President did or our troops were doing. And we fought, again, mightily - each with our own resolve, representing our own belief systems and cultures and propoganda.
In the end, however, we have educated each other, I believe, about the worlds we live in.. worlds we haven't shared in almost two decades. And we've agreed to disagree - but still be open to learning. And those two sentences seem trivial given the volumes of emails and words we've exchanged in anger and frustration with each other over the past few years. Most of all, through all our arguments, I think we each had our points and we were each right, to some degree, about our perspectives - considering where we each were in the world and what it looked like from where each of us were standing.. But, in the end, I believe that sharing our experiences brought us closer towards respecting each other's opinions and perspectives - something that we probably need to do a little more of as human beings.
But, we try to move on - remembering all that our friendship has brought us. And so I asked him to get a blog and read my blog, to stay in touch between emails that span weeks or months, sometimes. In a way, Blogging has reunited us, here, in the bits and bytes of some world of 0's and 1's on some imaginary network beyond our modems and routers.
So, welcome, Old Friend. I've missed you.
And perhaps, just maybe, as people move beyond physical and political boundaries in cyberspace, we will all have the opportunity to experience each other, globally, as very real people with common experiences, but different institutions that shape the way we see each other as a whole. Perhaps, when people become real to each other at an individual level, we'll refrain from generalizing and stereotyping people based on where they were born. Perhaps, when we all get to know each other by our real names, as Lennart and Ed, we'll forget the boundaries and distances between us and embrace each other as brothers, once again.