Last week, while I was in London with my husband and younger daughter for the International Conference on Naturopathic Medicine, we saw some friends whom my husband and I hadn’t seen in more than two decades. My daughters knew this family only as the family that sent “the perfect Christmas card” every year with the beautiful photograph…and their children’s experience of us was much the same.
Yet when we met up in London, it was like no time had passed. Even more interesting…we received one another as warmly as if we had just seen one another the week before. Their children were delightful and open and totally at ease talking to us even though this was the first time they had met us face to face. And our daughter reacted the same way. We greeted them with hugs and parted several hours later with bigger ones.
Such is the magic of old friends.
We all have people in our lives with whom we were close when we were young and then as we got older and our lives got in the way, we didn’t spend as much time together as we would have liked. Instead social time becomes focused on work obligations and our kids’ school and club activities, chatting with the moms and dads at the birthday parties or on the sidelines.
Yet I find it so fascinating that there are some people in our lives with whom we simply click…and stick. Ironically, it’s not about the quantity of time spent. It’s something else—shared values…shared experiences…shared styles…shared moments in time. How else could I explain the fact that my husband and I continue to be in touch with the couple we met on our honeymoon who were married the day before we were? We saw them on the airplane (they sat in front of us)…in the van to the hotel…and in the cart to our hillside hotel rooms. And we became friends and shared our once-in-a-lifetime week. We will both celebrate our 30th anniversary at the end of the summer—and if we saw them tomorrow, it would be like yesterday…only wrinklier.
It’s tempting to fall into a trap of thinking that time or distance has erased the relationship or that the shame of having been out of touch has severed the tie. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my 20s, I had this theory that all friendships were a series of “mutual uses”…in other words, we all had different friendships for different occasions. Some friends were for going to movies…some were for dining out…and others were the ones with whom you truly shared your heart. It sounded cold at the time, but what my young mind was understanding was that we have many relationships that serve many roles in our lives. It is not that we are “using each other,” but rather that we are completing each other in different ways at different times.
And in fact, I could extend that theory even further…we hold those “old friends” in our treasure chest of life, and when the time is right, they return to our lives or we return to theirs. Even if we return for only brief moments, there is comfort in knowing that they are there. Why else would so many people enjoy connecting with people from their long-ago past on Facebook?
It’s interesting to hear the stories of lovers who reconnect in middle age after their first marriages failed and their paths again crossed. At one of the sessions at the Naturopathic Conference, Dr. Leah Hollon talked about “Transgenerational Trauma,” which is when the traumas of one generation pass to future generations. Within our network of relationships and close ties, I see what I will call a “transgenerational connection,” in which the connections of past generations and early life stages pass to future generations and into later life. It’s this connection that causes my children to talk easily and comfortably to people they don’t know because they feel my connection to them. And it is this vital long-term connection that helps us all feel safe and grounded in a big and scary world.
Skeptics say that these people haven’t been in their lives for decades, so why connect now? But I go the other way—it’s comforting to tie together the different eras of life, even if it is only at the arm’s-length level that social media provides.
Case in point: There was a boy who lived in my neighborhood when I was young—he was friends with my brother and part of the neighborhood gang, but I was only seven years old when we left that neighborhood, so I can’t say that I knew him well. But we have recently connected on Facebook. I have really enjoyed seeing the father, husband and man he has become, and it gives me a sense of connection to our shared past.
Today is my birthday. In my mail last night, there was a card from one of my best friends from high school—we live near each other, but our lives have taken very different paths and we don’t get together often. Yet we are always there for each other, and like clockwork, Nancy always finds the best cards. Similarly, as I am writing this, I just received this Facebook message from one of my “three musketeers” from childhood, though we haven’t seen each other in nearly 40 years…
“It’s so funny, I picked up my phone this morning and the date showed July 5, and my first thought was, “Hey, I think it’s Sarah’s birthday. Why after all these years I can still remember…who knows. But your birthday and Penny’s birthdays are etched in my memory bank forever, I guess. Hope you have a wonderful and joyful birthday, my friend!”
Such is the magic of old friends. They really are always there…even when you can’t see them.