It’s been many years but I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. I was in my office at the Scotts Valley Police Department. It had been a busy day and I was looking forward to heading home for dinner.
“Hey John, it’s Bob. I have a silly little favor to ask you. It’s a silly little thing, really.”
This was not a typical phone call from Bob. Usually, when the district attorney calls a police chief, he either praises your agency about a case or suggests how things could’ve been handled better.
“Hi Bob, what’s up?” I asked.
“John, the county treasurer bowed out. He can’t do it this year. You’re one of the most artistic guys I know. It’ll be something you can cross off your bucket list,” Bob said.
He was buttering me up, and I knew it.
“What exactly do you want me to cross off my bucket list, Bob?” I asked warily.
“It’s a silly little thing, really,” he said, which now had me worried.
He continued, “They need a public figure to perform in the holiday Nutcracker production. It’s really a lot of fun. Do you think you could do it with me?”
I remembered the newspaper coverage of the previous year’s performance — Bob and the county treasurer in ridiculous outfits with makeup. I envisioned some of our department’s SWAT team members reacting with, “Hey, did you see the chief doing ballet in leotards with the district attorney?” I would never live it down.
I searched for excuses.
“What kind of commitment is this, Bob?”
He replied, “John, it’s nothing. Piece of cake. Just a few practice sessions at the ballet center.”
I didn’t want to do it. I had other commitments. I searched for an out.
Bob chimed in: “People enjoy it, John. You’re the most artistic guy I know. It’s a silly little thing … something to cross off your bucket list.”
Defeated (you can’t argue with an attorney), I gave in. “Fine, Bob, fine. I’ll do it.”
Two months of weekend practices later, it’s finally opening night. I’m in a dressing room looking like some turn-of-the-century clown with ruffles and makeup. Speaking of makeup, I’m actually applying a touch of rouge to Bob’s cheeks, per his request.
You can’t make this stuff up! Bob was beaming.
“See John, I told you this would be great,” he said.
The curtains went up and out we shuffled to a full audience, bright lights and the music of “The Nutcracker.” Of course, the professional ballet dancers were magnificent but Bob and I held our own as novice extras.
After the performance, it was champagne and laughs back in the dressing room. We took funny pictures, congratulated one another and ventured off to find our wives.
A few years later, Bob passed away after a valiant fight with cancer. Ever the classy guy and competent leader, he planned his own memorial and left the stage with grace and dignity.
Little did I know how thankful I would be that Bob talked me into “The Nutcracker.” He shared a side of himself I had not been privileged to see in our professional associations.
We spend a lot of time pursuing our careers. Chasing the prize of money, recognition, benefits, etc. It’s easy to say no to unexpected opportunities. After all, we’re all busy. Who has time?
In reality, some things are worth making time for.
When people reach out to you with an invitation to step out of your comfort zone, think hard before you decline. It could turn out to be something amazing. I’m so thankful Bob called me and we did “The Nutcracker” together.
Bob may have thought our Nutcracker experience was just a “silly little thing,” but actually, it was a time with him I’ll never forget. A wonderful experience to “check off my bucket list.” And for that, I am most grateful.
Years ago my good friend John visited me with an adventurous vacation proposal.
“White water rafting!“ John said, with a gleam in his eye. ”I looked into it, and we can get a group of guys for a weekend trip. It’ll be awesome. The water table is insane right now. We’re talking category four and five rapids!”
I had zero interest in white water rafting.
“Don’t people die on those category five rapids?” I asked.
“Don’t be such a wimp,” John said. “Live a little.”
“That’s the point, I want to keep living!” I told John. But it was to no avail. John was already on the phone to our buddy Bruce, who didn’t hesitate to say yes. Soon, John had his group of guys, and there was no way for me to wiggle out of it.
We drove up north to river country and met up with our guides. There was a long bus ride down a treacherous road with sharp cliffs on one side.
“What have I gotten myself into,” I thought.
At water’s edge, we packed our gear into the rafts, slipped on our dry suits and helmets, and shoved off.
The initial ride down the river was scenic and peaceful, but it wasn’t long before we encountered rough water. As we navigated boulders and more dramatic waterfall drops, our crazy guide asked if we wanted to tackle some serious water.
“No, no we don’t. We want to hit shore and picnic somewhere,” I thought to myself.
“Hell yeah, let’s do some category five action,” John shouted to our guide. To my horror, our buddy Bruce high-fived him in agreement.
There are moments in life you never forget because you survived them. Such was the case for the second half of our river adventure.
Our crazy guide, egged on by John and Bruce, soon had us charging category five rapids, full of ear-deafening, crashing waters and enormous boulders.
At one fork in the river, we went over an angry juncture of rocks and cascading water, into a swirling vortex below. Our raft partially capsized, ejecting everyone (including the guide) except me.
Stunned that I somehow remained in the raft, I noticed our guide clinging to the end of one of the oars, grasping to climb back into the raft.
“That was epic!” the guide yelled as he crawled back into the raft.
“We’re all going to die,” I thought to myself
Eventually, everyone found their way back into the raft and the adventure continued. That night we camped along the river shore underneath bright stars and surrounded by singing crickets.
There were laughter and beer and tall stories. John and I lay our sleeping bags on a small ridge. In the morning, John’s sleeping bag was invaded by ants. I laughed hard as he jumped out of his bag, cursing. Miraculously the ants ignored my sleeping bag.
By the end of the trip, we were all exhausted but triumphant. We had conquered the angry rapids and emerged more or less unscathed.
We had stories to share with family and friends back home. Most importantly, we invested in one another. Deepened our friendships and created lasting memories.
Little did I know that several years later, lost in the fog of depression following a bitter divorce, John would take his own life. I was devastated the day I received the news and still suffer from his loss.
“I collect memories. I look for opportunities to try new things, go to new places, and meet new people all the time.” — Marcel Wanders
Memories are the only things that lessen the pain. Particularly that crazy white water rafting trip. Thank God I went on that trip and resisted the urge to bow out.
If we let work, responsibilities, and commitments take over our lives, we’ll deny ourselves experiences that lead to rich memories and fuller lives. Like my experience with Bob at the Nutcracker, or tackling white water rapids with my friend John.
I often write about the importance of deep work and saying no to distractions, unnecessary obligations, and commitments. But for every rule, there’s often a flip side.
“Some talk to you in their free time, and some free their time to talk to you.” — hplyrikz.com
Sometimes, we need to set aside our work and say yes to family and friends. Sometimes, we need to do silly things or row for our lives down category five rapids.
This is why you need to say yes more. Because quality memories matter. Because no one lives forever. Because life is meant to be lived.
I miss Bob and John, but I give thanks every day that I joined them on our adventures. The memories make me smile and feel like a part of my friends live on, in my heart.
They are memories that keep on giving.
(Originally published at JohnPWeiss.com)
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I paint landscapes, draw cartoons and write about life. Follow along here.