The metaphor of “standing on the shoulders of giants” is used when explaining how the discovery of truth builds upon the discoveries of former truths. Its most famous attribution came from Isaac Newton regarding his scientific work. However, I would like to use it to illustrate a different phenomenon. Navigating life can be a perilous affair. Alone at the surface, you deal with inevitable obstacles growing from the ground. They spread like weeds, suffocating you in your pursuit of direction and clarity. They grow just beyond your head, making it easy to forget the world above the thicket. However, there are those among us who stand as giants, able to lift others out of the jungle upon their shoulders. From there, you can feel the wind in your face and glimpse the paths surrounding you. The scenery is so beautiful, it’s easy to forget to look down at the giants you rest upon. I try to always remember this, and when I glance down, it is Brady Wohlers who has been carrying me along.
As a general rule, when praising another, it is at your detriment to talk about yourself. Yet, in this instance, I want to paint a specific picture for you. Yes, there are vast numbers of things I could say about my friend. He is truly authentic, unparalleled in his kindness, and funnier than anyone else around. However, here I will focus on a subtler aspect of his character. To do so, it is impossible not to write of my own traits and experiences. For what I hope to communicate is just how many of them would not exist without my relationship with Brady.
Late night treks by the guidance of street lamps, winter romps through crusted snow, orbits around local parks: walks have long been a staple in our friendship (now approaching fifteen years). The earliest one I can recall happened when we were eleven. I was spending the night at his house (sleeping in a freshly painted basement), and we decided to take a nighttime jaunt around the neighborhood. Not as a means to go anywhere, but with the walking itself as the sole purpose and destination. It was a concept still new to us middle-schoolers.
I still remember the contents of that stroll’s conversation, because in the intervening eight years, our talk’s topics have yet to change. Nostalgia. We were recent graduates of a fabled All Saints Elementary, and on our walk, we recounted in detail every memory to occur over our tenure. The kindergarten brawl where Joey took the blame because I couldn’t afford another principal visit; the day of Will “The Legend” Klein’s departure from our halls, crushing every K-through-fifth grade girl’s heart; Tanner’s infamous pool parties. Since then, this oral tradition has been maintained with a zest difficult to describe. Even as more memories have been compounded, the originals from that first walk have been preserved (and maybe a bit embellished).
I can say with some confidence that the people who break through my thin introductory shell associate me with intense conversation. I have a passion for words and communication that I will take to the grave. Yet, it is one I didn’t come to know until those walks with Brady. He is pure electricity, combining facial expressions and vocal inflections (and impersonations) with a flair warranting study and emulation. Paired with an undyingly original sense of humor, Brady’s conversational charm would make Garrison Keillor envious.
At the time the two of us began our walking traditions (and expanded them with new friends), I had developed little appreciation for two of the things that today help define me: nostalgia for the past and passion for thoughtful conversation. Growing up, I was a chatterbox who spent little time reminiscing. I was forever moving forward, onto the new and exciting, appreciating little of what happened along the way. I had momentum, but it was moving without direction. I have arrived at where I am today thanks to Brady and those walks. Together, we explored the significance of our shared recollections of the past, and in doing so, expanded an appreciation and ability for introspective (and extensive) conversation. Brady’s regard for meaningful memories is unparalleled. His gift at communication—the way he makes everyone he talks to feel as though they won the lottery, getting the sort of genuine attention and concern that normally only comes with the most established relationships—is rare beyond belief. If I was not blessed to have him in my life, I say with absolute certainty that I do not know the sort of person I would be. Quite likely, I’d be sprinting forward in a different direction, having lived in the rabble of life’s deceptive obstacles, still searching for passions to define me. A fate spared to me by Brady Wohlers, the giant who lifted me upon his shoulders from the thicket below. I hope you all find someone who can show you such a view.