Last Sunday I went out for lunch with one of my best friends from school. We hadn’t seen each other for roughly 3 years. That’s a long time considering how close we were. The significant passage of time between meetings was nothing to do with a dispute or any kind of altercation, but just one of those mutual divisions that occur as you get older. People drift apart, priorities change and we each seek personal goals. In any case a reconciliation had been long overdue, so we finally reserved some time to just sit down with a beer, some food and just chat. We discussed our formative years in school, predominantly concerning all the juvenile escapades we’d assume with various collaborators. Regailing our perceived “rebellious delinquency” with sneers of derision and embarrassment. With initiatives such as throwing pencil cases out of the windows, swearing at a teacher – though in my defense the extended middle finger had been intended for a member of the public that had almost ran me down! – carving “Aaron Smells” on the wall of the assembly entrance, much to the grievance of our headmaster who regarded such creative flourishes as vandalism, and getting help from Miss Wallace in I.T class just so we could get a good look down her top. They were hardly schemes or collusion’s conceived by nihilistic activists. And though it was nice catching up again, sharing details regarding drunken nights out in town, the various failed attempts at courting women while under the influence of our preferred libations (basically anything alcoholic!) it did feel like talking to a stranger. Conversations that years before would’ve been free flowing and jovial now felt anxious and forced, like former band members trying to rekindle musical differences after a prolonged hiatus. The problem is that during this 3 year interlude between meeting last a lot has changed.
I myself had become a father. Roughly around the same time that my girlfriend and I had welcomed our daughter into the world, he was saying goodbye to his wife who tragically passed away due to cancer. She was only in her late 20’s. Death of any kind is always sad, but at such a tender age with their marital life ahead of them this was just cruel. I was unable to attend the funeral, owing to my girlfriends continued hospitalisation due to complications from childbirth. In fact I didn’t know what had happened until a mutual friend of us casually mentioned the event in passing. So finally here I was sitting across from him and I just couldn’t bring myself to broach the subject. I skirted the issue entirely as often as I could. I mean how do you approach that kind of sorrow with any delicacy? It was clear from his posture, the melancholy, the ruffled and matted hair that was now tinged with whisps of grey that he hasn’t endured the most pleasant 12 months. He looked older, weary even. Akin to a soilder who has returned from active duty a changed person. The jovial and acerbic wit were gone, replaced by a man hardened and matured by agony. Perhaps even permenantly.
You could tell that this was a man that had and probably still was grieving, but I didn’t want him to interpret my ambivalence as something inconsiderate. Instead I decided that it were best for him to dictate the course of the conversation, with me expressing my own condolences without having to address it with any intimate detail. As such we both became a little more comfortable chatting, establishing a natural dialogue between two friends who’d forgotten just how good it was to just sit down with a pint and talk bullocks for a couple of hours. It was great too that he finally got to meet my daughter, demonstrating his own paternal skills, as my daughter chuckled at every facial expression he could muster. By the time we’d eaten, discussed our respective families and conferred every nugatory information about life in general the mood was suitably congenial. We parted soon after to pursue the trifling monotony of domesticity that seems to clasps your freedom with persistent regularity as you get older, vowing to meet up again much sooner.
I guess the message, banal though it maybe really is to value your friendships. To nurture and preserve them regardless of petty arguments, distance between you or the elapse of time. There shouldn’t be anything to stop you, just encourage you. Don’t leave issues unresolved, festering for years nor hesitate calling a friend even just to say hi. I thought that by neglecting my involvement in his life because of fatherhood would somehow absolve my absense, but it doesn’t. There was no real excuse for me not to contact him sooner, to exhibit a profound regret for missing his wife’s funeral, even if it couldn’t be helped or be there when he needed all the help he could get. You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. And when you do you have to remain committed to maintaining they’re loyalty. You never know when they may need you, or when you might need them.