Old friends are like a comfortable pair of shoes. They can be placed in a closet, always available but unseen for extended periods of time. When they are eventually retrieved and worn, we are often surprised and pleased at how good they feel and how well they mold to our body. After a few minutes, it is as if they had never left our feet. Later that evening, as we put the comfy shoes back in the closet, we vow to wear them more often.
I had the good fortune to see a few old friends in the past week, under completely different circumstances. One circumstance was a friend passing through town. The other was a mutual friend passing through life. Two occasions, one happy and one especially tragic, but the common denominator was the sight, warmth and love of old friends.
As we tend to the daily structures of our lives, we become engrossed in the minutiae – work or looking for work, bills, meal schedules, play, sleep. Structure is not a bad thing; it keeps us focused and moving and is necessary for growth. The downside, though, is that our peripheral vision becomes strained. We look ahead, we think about the future, and we act for tomorrow. In our zeal to push forward, we can easily lose focus of our surroundings and fail to clearly observe anything outside the direct line of sight. Similarly, in response to our requirements, we tend to purchase a new pair of pants or shoes, ostensibly thinking ahead but overlooking the dusty pair in the corner that might be what we really need.
One of the immeasurable blessings of old friends is their keen ability, expressed through long forgotten anecdotes and personal observations, to shed light on ourselves. It represents more than a mere historical connection to our past, but a providential deconstruction of our being. A good old friend has the facility to penetrate our soul, unveil us to the world, and gently put us back together again, a better person. Never overtly judgmental, the old friend allows us to share without the constraints of work or societal impositions. In the process, we may tell silly and embarrassing stories, we laugh, we expose our unvarnished underbelly, and, in the end, we become ourselves. Incredibly, this healing process can occur within seconds. The first sight of the dear old friend, followed by the long hug commensurate with time away, supplies us with tactile salve that serves to immediately dissolve barriers. Spending time with an old friend is reconnecting with one’s self.
As we enter the second act of our life, there is a yearning to link with the past and complete the circle. Recently, several good friends have begun to send their children off to college. In many cases, this transitional milestone appears to have triggered a desired reattachment with the past. With children well on their way to adulthood, there is an opportunity to reclaim an identity that may have been suppressed for years.
I am grateful to reconnect with the small group of “friends of the heart”, as one aptly described the collection of tight-knit friends, and look forward to never tossing those comfy pairs of shoes.