He became my best friend, my security, my confidant. Our friendship grew over the years. We went to the same middle school and high school. We attended the same church. We spent a lot of our free time together. He helped me with art projects and I helped him with math. We both hated PE but joined the choir. We traded albums and books. And then high school ended.
No problem. We were roommates all through college. We both were successful debaters. We both loved drama classes. We both worked for the local radio station to earn extra cash. I don't think we ever dated the same girl, but we certainly gave each other feedback about our choices in women.
College ended. He got married and moved to another town in the south. I got married and moved to New England. Initially, we wrote letters (yeah, I'm old enough there was no e-mail!) a few times a month. Then it dwindled to less. We called each other on our birthdays and Christmas. And then not so often. And little by little, our contact became nothing more than a card at Christmas with maybe a note that said "hey, we had a baby" or "notice the new address...we moved". But other than that, the person I was best friends with for a dozen years became barely even a connection.
A few weeks ago I decided to make more meaningful contact with my old friend. I had his e-mail address from the card that came this past Christmas. So I sat down to write a pretty lengthy letter. But what do you include in just one letter? It can't be everything. And our last real exchange of information was more than twenty years ago. He has never seen any of my kids. Had no idea that we had a kid with special needs. Doesn't know about my hobbies or my job. Do I talk about fun stuff or serious stuff? Politics? Spirituality? Or just what TV shows I like?
I did a summary of lots of different things and sent the note on its way.
A couple of days later, I got a great response. He had many questions about my life and shared a lot about his life. And he sent a link to his Facebook page so I could see some photos.
And that was a weird sensation. Even though we have not talked in years, I knew him so well in the past that I still had this feeling that we know each other. So I experienced this odd sense of my world shifting as I looked at photos of a life I've never known. Pictures of his kids that I've never met...who are now adults...some even have kids of their own. There was my middle school buddy holding his grandchild! Photos around the Christmas tree on Christmases I know nothing about in homes I've never visited. Pictures of his parents who I knew so well growing up - now old. It was almost startling to see his life spread out before me and realizing the person I once knew better than anyone else - now I barely know at all.
I wrote my friend about my feelings. The fun of seeing his photos and the weirdness and sadness of realizing I had missed so much of his life. He had similar feelings when viewing the photos I sent him. And we've swapped e-mail several times since then.
I'm not naive. I don't expect us to ever be friends in the way we were as kids. Family and work and paying bills and a million other things make it difficult to stay in touch with someone so far away. But I think we can do better than just being Christmas card buddies. Even at a distance, if we are committed to it, old friends can slowly grow older together.
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
Thanks to Simon & Garfunkel for the lyrics.