When the day came for my older daughter to go off to college, I tried to think of some sage advice that she could take along with her.
Try as I might, the best I could do was to quote some lyrics by an old pop group, Seals and Crofts, who sang about the importance of new experiences. The message was simple, and it just seemed to make all the sense in the world. “This is the day I make lovers and
friends of strangers.”
The song always reminded me to keep an open mind about new things and new people, and I hoped my daughter would do the same.
And when I harkened back to the first few days of my own college experience, winding up in the company of all those future friends and lovers, how could I have possibly known that Chris Kondracki might be among them.
Need I say more?!
For those who know Chris best, I suspect you came up with your own descriptive adjectives for him a long, long time ago. (Or better yet, maybe your attempts to characterize him – or figure him out – are still a work in progress!)
For those not fortunate enough to know him, though, please try to imagine…
Nah, check that…Don’t even bother imagining anything.
Why, you may ask?
Because anything you come up with just wouldn’t be enough to describe the man properly. And rest assured, that’s no exaggeration.
Let’s try this, maybe. You know how people are always talking about someone who is “most likely to do anything?” Sure, you know the type. You ‘got your thrill seekers, your fearless types, those who just don’t have a filter and will say whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. You’re with me on that, right?
The thing is that “most likely to do anything” isn’t even near the tip of the iceberg. In fact, I’d say you can pretty much chuck the “most likely” part, too. Man, even “willing to do anything” just isn’t enough.
Instead, Chris (or Drack or Spanky or Drack Pack plus, I suspect, a slew of other monikers some of you invented and have used often over the years) was not only willing to do anything, he upped the ante and simply willed himself to do everything.
When you’re young, despite what you think you know, you don’t really know much. And speaking for myself, I never knew some of the things that Chris had to go through as a kid and then later in his life as both husband and father. Maybe I just don’t want to know.
Along the way, I often wondered about the number of times he must have asked himself, “How much more pain do I have to take?” Or “How much longer do I have to fight?” Or “How much time do I really have left?”
As time went along, though, and I developed a friendship with Chris, I got the answer to each and every one of my questions. How about zero times. Yeah, how about absolutely never.
I think he just decided that every day was going to be a celebration. And he must have made frequent reminders to himself to live out every minute – to do the most outlandish, uninhibited, and flat out madly fun things he could think of.
His true gift, and the thing I will always remember about him, was that everyone was included in his unique and marvelous brand of anything goes. Every single person he ever met just went along for the ride.
If you were worried about something, or if you just weren’t feeling good about yourself or if you were bothered by something you just couldn’t shake, Chris would laugh it off on your behalf. Somehow, he was like the male equivalent to Polly Anna, the consummate optimist. If you didn’t believe in yourself on your own, Chris would simply do it for you.
That’s just who he was – the best guy, the best leader, the best friend to everybody. Like the fearless quarter-back-of-a man that he was, championing his favorite number 12, he combined guts and humor at every turn.
Yep, carpe diem on two feet. A super-charged human vitamin, clad in a rugger’s jersey and firm ground rugby boots.
A jokester. A prankster. And in the same breath, someone who would walk through the fire for you if you asked him to. Jesus, you didn’t even have to ask; he’d just do it, with little or no regard for himself.
And for all that hysterical laughter – for all those I-can’t-believe-what-you just-did-type moments – Chris was simply tough as hell. Not only did he keep us all laughing, he also reminded us to make every minute count.
I can only hope that I told him enough times – anywhere near enough times – that I felt like his joy was mine, too; really, it was all of ours.
As strange as it may seem to me, I have to accept the fact that I am nearly 60 years old. But because of my friendship with Chris, in an instant, I can turn the clock back some 40 years. I won’t have to try very hard either. I’ll just think of that devilish grin, that Cheshire Cat smile and that all-out balls-to-the wall mindset that was his mantra. I’ll always be grateful to
him for that.
To Susie, Alice, and Kendall, thank you for sharing Chris with all of us. I have never known a more universally beloved and memorable person. And I suspect I never will.
Christopher Edward Kondracki, it is one of the greatest honors of my life to say that I am
your friend. And I promise you that I have a whole lot of company in that.