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Re-Friending Your Life

It took a small village to raise us and our kids. The small village was a fortuitous group of seven young families who met and bonded through an innovative, free-form worship group in the late ‘60s. Our children became each other’s best friends, and the same was true for the parents. We were each other’s constant companions, praying and playing, eating and exercising, camping and canoeing. With all the adults fully employed, four families even developed a shared-cooking program; on one night of the week, each would prepare four times their intended supper and deliver portions to the other three. As often as not, the call would go out that dinner was ready, and we’d all gather at the home of whoever cooked, to eat together.

We became so close that we seriously discussed forming a commune together, but decided that was a wee bit too much togetherness. So we settled for creating our own neighborhood, several of us deliberately buying houses next door or around the corner from each other. And when my work repeatedly drew me to various other locales for extended periods and might have occasioned our moving away, I instead took apartments in those cities and commuted so our family could have the benefit of lifelong friends in a true hometown.

For half a century, we lived the inflection points in each other’s lives. The birth of a child. The job promotion. The dismissal from a job. The pothole in a marriage. The publishing of a book. The loss of a parent to Alzheimer’s or death. The wedding of a child. The worrisome diagnosis. The search for a cure.

Now our long life—we’re 84—is gradually depriving us of those lifelong friends. The kids, they’re still all warmly engaged with each other. But the other six men are gone now. One by one. Jack, Harry, Bob, Nick, Jon, and Dudley, whom I lay beside on his death bed, my head shaved in solidarity with his chemo-induced baldness. And many of the women are now living with their far-flung children or in retirement communities.

We’re not totally bereft of longtime friends. In the ‘70s, we were blessed with the addition of several new families to the gang. One of those men is gone, but we still cherish extraordinarily intimate relationships with the others. They are the continuing and blessed essence of our little village.

But it’s all different now. Of course we’ve made many new friends. Just not friends of fifty years’ duration. Not friends who helped us raise our children—and ourselves—and vice-versa. The friends we’ve made in the last twenty years or so are hugely precious to us, and as they too celebrate milestones or encounter threats to their health and well-being, we feel surges of joy or pangs of fear just as we did with our friends of fifty years’ life together.

But shared history matters. Like, we don’t know their children. In all too many cases, I don’t even know their children’s names, let alone who they are in their essence, careers, families, predicaments, and yearnings. Patti is vastly more curious and retentive about those matters, but even so, in most cases it’s information learned through their parents, not personal encounters. And as for their grandchildren, we have glimpses only of those few whose proud grandparents are particularly voluble about their accomplishments.

My affection for our friends of recent decades has largely been nurtured through social encounters, shared artistic events, intellectual tussling, volunteer work, and sporting engagements together. Important, meaningful, enjoyable, but rarely life-changing. Rarely the kind of recalled experience that might prompt my saying, “Remember when…”

And so as my opportunities for savoring timeless memories dwindle, I am all the more moved to embrace life in the moment with my newer friends. I feel great affection for many of them, and gratefully feel some of that reflected back to me. Now I want to be more attentive to what else I might learn about them, to deepen my capacity to appreciate who they have been and who they are. To learn if and how I can support their fulfillment. We can’t make up for lost time, but we can always live more deeply in the time we have.

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