Friend #27: Mark (and Jen and Colin)

From Sarah’s, I drove a literal 2 miles to have dinner with high school friend Mark and his family at their home on a street where they still have block parties.  In my time in Denver, I had to drive less than 8 miles to see all my friends.  Pretty amazing when you consider how big the metropolitan area is.  Mark and I met in sixth grade when our two different elementary school bands combined for a joint concert.  We both played the French horn.  And we were in band and a lot of the same classes throughout junior high.  I did band in high school and Mark did not; we still had a lot of classes together, but our very large group of junior high friends split into very friendly but differently occupied band and non-band factions.

The last time Mark and I saw each other was actually in Guatemala.  After graduating from college, Mark put off a job with Accenture for two years to work in orphanages in Guatemala and Honduras.  At the time he was in Guatemala, my college roommate was in Honduras, and she and I met in Guatemala and traveled around the country for a week.  We met up with Mark for pizza in Antigua.  Later in the week at Lago (Lake) Atitlan, my roommate and I had dinner with him and his folks, who were also in town at that time.  I think we even bumped into them on the street when they were about to tour a local volcano.

Since that time in Guatemala, Mark eventually started that job at Accenture in Denver and met and married his wife, Jen.  They were both absent from our 10-year reunion because they took a year to travel the entire globe.  Mark documented the journey in photographs, and Jen with words, and they compiled a book, Thirty on a Camel.  I remember looking at the images and stories on their website at the time and being so moved by them and by the idea of the adventure they were undertaking.    On a certain level, the trip they took then was one of several pieces of inspiration for me to take this journey.

The evening was cooling off by the time I arrived at their house, greeted by enthusiastic waves from 17-month-old son Colin.  You can tell this trio is a family–they all have fair complexions and reddish blond hair.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner on the patio as I caught up on life with Mark and got to know Jen, who is awesome.  She taught literacy at the high school level for 10 years.  She’s hard-core awesome.  Now she’s working on the finishing touches of a novel she’s writing.

I guess the theme among my friends in Denver has been persevering through struggles and coming out the other side.  Colin was born with a cleft lip and has had two surgeries.   He will have more.  But to hear Mark and Jen talk about it, they were actually grateful for the cleft lip because it was predicted to have been much, much worse.  Colin did NOT have a cleft palate, nor did he have a variety of other ailments that can sometimes go along with a cleft.  And during those first few months when they practically lived at the doctor’s office, they were surrounded by a community of family and friends.  The trials they went through with Colin deepened their friendships profoundly.  And it is that supportive community that has helped enable Mark and Jen to parent Colin into a curious and joyful little boy.

And they hope to expand their family.  They are in the process of waiting on the final paper work to become foster parents.  Of kids over the age of 12.  I threw my arms up in the air and cheered when they told me.  So cool.  Jen has experience working with older kids from a rougher background from her work in the schools, and Mark worked with older boys at the orphanage in Guatemala.  It was exciting to see how they bring those experiences into an otherwise pretty standard home life.

When I was in Guatemala eating dinner with Mark, I distinctly remember there were moments when I felt 14 years old inside, when I was transported back in time to the old days.  But this time, it was like we met up somewhere on a walking path and walked alongside each other for an evening, each standing on our own two grown-up feet.

Mark confessed that he’s sometimes just feeling his way along, figuring out how to be a husband and a dad.  I always remember Mark as a good guy and a good friend.  Definitely adventurous.  He and another friend started a rock-climbing club our senior year, just for fun.  He still has some of the mannerisms of that 12-year-old boy I knew–his posture and walk are the same.  Still has his sense of humor and will take a good jab atcha when he can.  Has a little less hair (hey–gotta take a jab of my own when I can).  But this is definitely man-Mark.  Dad-Mark.  Husband-Mark.  Mark who knows a lot about business.  Mark who cares about seeing some justice in the world and will do something about it.  In other words, he is more and more solidly and distinctly himself.   And it was a pleasure to walk alongside him and his family for the evening.

I regret not capturing adorable little Colin before bedtime.

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