I spent a recent Friday evening with some old friends. As I looked into their faces, I could still see the people they were all those years ago when we were just starting out.
We didn’t stay out all night the way we used to. There was no run to a cheap restaurant at 4 a.m. to acquire the coffee and hash browns that suddenly seemed so essential after hours of consuming beverages that were not coffee.
In the old days, 4 a.m. often marked the end of the night, but these days, some of us are getting up at that hour (whether we like it or not).
Despite these changes, things remained remarkably the same.
The girls are still as hot as they were in college, and the guys still make me laugh the way they always have.
During that evening, we shared some stories of our recent adventures, and added a few new threads to the fabric of our common experience.
There is an old proverb that reads “A good friend will help you move. A great friend will help you move a body.”
That applies to old friends, as well. There isn’t much we wouldn’t do for one another.
We have been through a lot together, these old cronies and I. We have been through marriages and divorces, births and deaths, and all of the other milestones that make up a life.
Most friends will help us out if we ask. Old friends don’t wait to be asked. They just appear. They are always there when we need them, sometimes before we even know we need them.
They make the good times better, and the bad times bearable.
They are with us not just for the celebrations, but to help us with the tough jobs, such as preparing for a funeral or sorting out the belongings of a relative who has died.
Old friends are comfortable, like a favorite old shirt. There is no need for pretense, and they are not offended if we forget to call.
They know us, and we know them. They have seen us at our best and worst, and by some miracle, they still keep hanging around.
Good friends will tell us we are being stupid when we need to hear it, and overlook our mistakes when we don’t.
My old friends and I don’t get together often these days. Months might pass between visits, but when the time comes, we can slip them on again like that old shirt, and take up right where we left off.
We don’t need the detritus of the day-to-day to fill in the gaps. We share history, and that bridges the gaps just fine.
It has been said that good friends can grow separately without growing apart, and that is certainly true in our case.
As I watched and listened to my old friends the other evening, it made me smile to think of some of our previous encounters. We aren’t stuck in the past, but somehow having a big old basket of shared memories helps us to appreciate the present and embrace the future.
Some in our group are facing the first pangs of emptying nests. Their kids, who are now blossoming into young adults, are going off to college and leaving home. They are reaching the age that we were when our group made the incredible transition from a collection of individuals to a cohesive unit.
We call ourselves the Cheezeballs (our own spelling), after a little game we used to play using a snack item that was popular at the time. The product was discontinued years ago, but we are all still together.
I don’t know how it happened, these kids growing up behind my back.
It wasn’t so long ago when their parents and I were young and free and just itching to take on the world.
Then, there were the years when little bundles of what the parents claim was joy began to appear in our gang. These bundles seemed to scream a lot, and I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what anyone could see in them, but the parents seemed attached to them, and that was enough.
Later, the bundles began to display their own budding personalities. Eventually, the kids got old enough for me to teach them some bad habits with which they could torment their parents, and that made the kids fun for me, too. I was finally able to see the benefit of having them around.
Now, these young men and women are finishing their school years, and far too soon, they will be embarking on new careers and starting families of their own.
The best thing that I could wish for them, as they set out down the road of adulthood, is that they find a few friends who are half as good as the friends their parents have been, to travel down that road with them.
I hope that a few decades from now, they will be able to get together in some crowded kitchen with their old friends to share a laugh and a story, and remember the good times that they have shared.
There are a lot of things in life over which we have no control. There are setbacks, and obstacles, and just plain bad luck that can disrupt our best-laid plans.
If we have a few good friends to keep us company along the way, however, there is nothing we can’t overcome, and it makes the journey much sweeter.
My old friends and I have been scattered by the four winds since our college days, and we are spread about as far apart as we can be without actually leaving the country.
That doesn’t matter, though. That’s just geography.
One thing I have learned after all these years is that closeness has nothing at all to do with miles on a map.