It was the summer of 2001 when my family moved to Wallowa County. Undoubtedly this would change my life forever. I was prepared for that.
But how my life changed is astonishing beyond comprehension. Approaching the situation, I knew that I had an uphill climb.
I was a quiet city kid from a family of artists, now in rural Oregon. And I was shy and self-conscious to boot. For the first time in my life I wondered if and how I would make any friends.
It turns out I was lucky. After building up a good deal of courage I gave football a chance though I’d never played it before. Knew nothing about it in fact. I pushed the limits of my timidity. It didn’t seem to get me far.
But I’ll never forget the bus ride home—I believe after playing Pilot Rock. Something changed. The other students engaged me in conversation. They welcomed me. In hindsight I now know that it wasn’t moving from the city to Wallowa County that would change my life. It was the bus ride home that night.
Unbeknownst to me, a teammate, Lance Strickland told everybody to give me a shot. “Put yourself in his shoes,” were his exact words… which I remember to this day. Lance had one of those personalities that radiated greatness. A quote from Thomas Merton comes to mind whenever I think of Lance: “You are certainly one of the joys of life for all who have ever come within a mile of you.” That was Lance.
And immediately I was surrounded by a handful of ‘brothers’ that to this very day remain my closest friends. Justin Bird, Kyle Schoeningh, Ryan Barstad and Mikey Gamboa—just to name few. Like Lance, these men stood by me and continue to stand with me through pain. Through joy. Through Fear.
Lance left this world in 2005. And I speak for all of us when I say that nothing on this earth could fill that void in our broken hearts. But together we moved forward, one slow step at a time, piecing our lives back together just as our friend would want.
I’m confident today that Lance, knowing my affection for Robert Kennedy, would remind me of his words: “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” Or perhaps he would remind me of Cesar Chavez’s belief that “we draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.”
Lance’s story is one of optimism and loyalty; he was always one to prop others up. The one to give the right advice at the right time. Even if we disagreed on something important, if he saw me stray he would pull me right back to where he knew I wanted to be.
Please don’t misunderstand. This isn’t a sad story.
Filled with joy, I am so pleased to announce that Mikey Gamboa and his wonderful partner Amanda Smith just gave birth to a son... To Lance James Gamboa!
Little does he know, Lance James will never want for anything that I or the others are able to give. Little does he know, how truly loved he is.
My high school friend will always live on inside me. Inside each of us. And Lance James will forever give us hope. Mikey and Amanda will unquestionably raise Lance James to understand what made his “uncle” Lance so unique.
And the rest of us “uncles” will always cherish the opportunity to share stories of young Lance James’s namesake. We will tell him of Lance’s humor and love of life. We will regale him with stories of his strength and intelligence.
I personally will pass on Lance’s remarkable compassion: the very same that he showed me, a new kid in town struggling to fit in.
And because I find truth and inspiration through the wisdom of others, I’m reminded of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who, apt to this column once said: “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” I am so blessed.