Over lunch, Debbie and I were having a conversation about someone we knew in our youth and were wondering what had happened to him.
This is what happens when lifelong friends gather. We trip back in time and memory and ponder what or who has come and gone.
We concluded that whatever had happened to him was not what could have happened, that he had had so much potential, talent and opportunity that he could have become rich and famous. Life offered it to him but he slapped away the hand of sweet fate. An abundance of opportunities were offered but away he squandered each and every one. Debbie recounted many of them then sadly shook her head.
"The saddest thing in life," I opined, "is not the people who have never had the opportunities but the ones who had them and threw them away. Nothing is more pitiful."
She absorbed the words for a moment then nodded slowly. "That’s very profound."
It’s one of the lessons that life has offered me through a front seat view of many lives in many circumstances. I have seen people who took nothing and made much of something out of it, while others had a lot of something and turned it into nothing. Can you imagine being a spend thrift with opportunities so valuable?
Several years ago on the country music version of a talent competition show, a contestant had been dismissed by the judges. As the show rounded out its finalists, viewers were asked to vote on dismissed contestants. The one who received the most votes was asked to rejoin the show as the last finalist. A cute guy from a tiny Southern town was the lucky one. Over the weeks that the show stretched on, this guy emerged as a favorite of judges and viewers.
He had been in Nashville for several years, kicking around, chasing his dream and having little success. Oh, but was he talented.
On this show, unlike others similar, the contestants were judged on their songwriting talent, which is enormously important in country music, as well as vocal and instrument skills. The incredible songs he had written gave him the edge over the competition.
The judges and the audience always gave him a standing ovation after he performed one of his personally crafted songs.
I cheered the night he won. I had voted for him every week. He deserved to win. As a result, he was given a recording contract with one of Nashville’s most prominent labels. I bought the album as soon as it was released and it is still one of my favorites on my iPod.
His story was so great, so indicative of the equality of the American dream that I even called his record label to ask for an interview. I wanted to write about him. He turned down the interview request. I later heard from friends in the industry that he was difficult and turned down most interviews to the frustration of his public relations folks.
Even worse, he was battling substance addiction. He lost the battle, lost the recording contract, lost his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was gone like a piece of Halloween candy in the hands of a child.
A while back, I found myself at a talent showcase in Nashville, sitting next to the record label executive who had been a judge on the show. She had been tough as nails but had an obvious soft spot for him. I found her most affable, so we fell into comfortable conversation. We discussed him.
"It’s so sad," she said. "He wrote me a letter, apologizing after he got out of rehab. He knows he blew it."
And now the golden opportunity he once possessed will never come again. It’s gone like a daffodil in the wind.
Think about having to live with that regret for the rest of a lifetime.