Holding on to Friends

His name is Mike, and he was one of my two best friends in high school. I last saw him on the streets of Manhattan, more than 30 years ago, and we have not heard from each other since.

Mike is part of a group of friends from my younger days who have faded into the deep recesses of my memory: Rob, David, Virginia, Anne, Betsy, Dominick, Rosemary, Sharon, and others whose faces I can recall from school days, working together, or just following our dreams.

I left school, jobs, and cities, and they did, too. I focused inwardly on new schools, new work, the responsibilities and joys of parenthood, establishing myself in new communities, and on reestablishing myself after a painful divorce. Presumably, they did some of that, too.

I let them go. And I guess they let me go, too. They all feel lost to me now.

This state in which I find myself reminds me of an exchange from the TV show “Mad Men,” when Bert Cooper and Don Draper are trying to convince Roger Sterling to join them in buying back their ad agency from a British company. Roger is hesitant about working with Don.

Roger tells Don that he “doesn’t value relationships.”

Don responds, “I do now.”

You see, I grew up as an only child and a latchkey kid. Lots of hours alone to amuse myself. My world revolved around ideas and thoughts. I could satisfy myself with a book, a long magazine article, movies and TV shows, music, banging a tennis ball against the garage door. I could consume and absorb art, music, sports, and literature without limit, and that activity could satisfy me.

The people who mattered most to me in life were my immediate family and a handful of friends from college years. Outside of that very tight circle, people felt fungible. I am not proud of having felt that way.

And then the man I considered my best friend died.

I now feel a bit like Don Draper.

I began taking stock of relationships, both new and old. I came to understand that friendships, like marriage, require work. Friendships are not easy, especially when the friends are no longer in the same crucible of school, work, parenting, or city. They require intentionality. They require travel. They require shedding the very comfort zone that fostered the friendships in the first place.

And your reward is finding the people with whom you can sit on the porch after everyone else has gone to bed, watch shooting stars, drink adult beverages, and punctuate long periods of silence with reflections on the issues that envelope our souls. Think about that for a moment. These are the moments that help define the kind of life we live, which make us uniquely human.

I now find myself working to avoid becoming the stereotype of older men, that of having no friends and incapable of making new friends. Whose “best friends” are his wife and her friends. Just Google “older men have no friends” if you need to learn more about this subject.

Now facing months of physical isolation from people while social distancing, I am reaching out to friends and checking in. Text, email, Messenger, phone call, Zoom. I don’t want to let go of these people. When our quarantines are over, and if we have survived, I want share more evenings on porches with long periods of meaningful silence with them.

I may have tracked Mike down on the internet. He’s not easy to find. I think I’ll send him a message.

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