By Matt Gordon
I once met a man from Argentina. He was thin, with pale skin and dark hair, handsome as the night. The last part may or may not be true—I’m a poor judge. But it does make this beginning sound as much like a romance novel as possible. However, this is no fiction. And if it were, it wouldn’t be romance. Perhaps a drama, as our friendship was initially torn apart. Or at least a ligament in his knee was.
We were teammates on a college soccer team. Each freshman was given a “buddy,” some upperclassman who would keep the fresh meat from spoiling. We youngsters were to follow the lead set forth by our buddy.
Funny word, that: buddy. It is a term of endearment, an informal use of friend. But it can have a bit of a childish or corny or, sometimes, sinister feel. I wonder what the word meant to my own “buddy,” a non-native speaker from that faraway land? There was no time to ask, for, after receiving our partners, we were off and running, attacking our first drill, and one another. We locked eyes, primed for the whistle—the waiting ball between us a sacred prize to be won and kept. Whistle shrieked, I raced ahead, but when I got to the ball, my buddy was no more. One moment he stood before me; the next, gone. He was back at the start, writhing in pain, an altogether different shriek, having torn his ACL.
Throughout the season, we’d room with or eat with or be paired in drills with or against our buddies. But not me. I’d attach to some other pair, a third wheel wobbling along. It would be fair to say I was buddyless, but it wouldn’t quite be correct. Just a few days after that first practice, Sebastian, my buddy, crutched up to me after a practice.
“Matt,” he remembered my name amid his other concerns, “I’m sorry I won’t be able to be there for you on the field this season. But I will be there in any other way you need me.”
His seriousness surprised me. I was eighteen and didn’t know people in my general age bracket could be so sober-minded, so focused. After all, I had just met Sebastian Gonzalez, a man from Argentina—one of a kind.
Around campus, International students called him “the godfather.” This wasn’t for a prowess at partying or tied to the mob in any way, but a reverent moniker of endearment. The respect was hardly a choice. It is a natural byproduct for one who is seen, loved. That talk Seba had with me was a familiar speech given to hundreds. More than just lip service, he drove students to the DMV, helped them book travel, tutored them in their studies, helped them with English, made airport runs in the dead of night, fixed their computers. He was just there for people, time and time again. He made them seen and served them love.
After graduating, he stayed at the school, working in IT and recruiting international athletes. Each semester, a full crop of students from around the world would arrive at the threadbare campus. They’d been offered the moon by institutions at hipper locales with superior facilities. Nearly all of them gave the same answer when asked about arriving at what seemed like a lesser option in so many ways. “Seba,” they’d say simply. There is just something priceless about having a built-in buddy.
Eventually he left the school, but carried his buddies along with him. One day he reached out and proposed to build me a better blog for free. Another time he offered me a side hustle writing content about shipping vehicles. He could have gotten about anyone to do that simple work, but he wanted his buddy to benefit from the task. He was forever generous with his time and ideas and resources.
I visited my old buddy a few years ago at a soccer field. He was there watching his son compete in a tournament. He leaned close to his boy and gave him a serious sounding pep-talk, full of information yet not lacking in love. His son trotted away, and only then did he smile and break character, going from godfather to father. “He is a good boy and I’m so proud of him,” he said, a comment focused utterly beyond mere athletics. “And now, Matt,” he resumed his business-like demeanor, “Tell me: how are you?” Same dark eyes, only no soccer ball this time between us. Just life, and his willingness to fight with me for the best of it.
I’ve never met another person so dogged in his pursuit of serving those around him; Seba is fanatically obliged. He is a jovial family-man, a loyal husband, devoted father, and wonderful professional. In all those roles he is wispy with grace, easy as an Argentine breeze. But he dons a three-piece suit and swells formidably when it comes to the formal business of helping others. He peers into them with his dark eyes and says, with words and deeds, “I will be there for you any way you need me.”
The specifics may vary, but like so many others, I once met a man from Argentina. And we are all better for this kindly kismet: for having a “buddy” so rich in love and free with time. I once met a man from Argentina, indeed. May we all be so blessed.