Sat on their park bench like bookends;
Newspaper blowin’ through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends.
Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy.
Memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fear. . .
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was,
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
During the past while, I have had numerous experiences of reconnecting with old friends, friends dating back to disparate times of life, and different places.
These visits have been very interesting, at several levels! There are many wonderful memories, of course. We have shared life very intensely at times with a great variety of wonderful people.
But these visits have caused me to consider some things about life. While we share life with people, especially when we share life intensely, we are exposed to the same things; similar ideas shape our experience. We share ideas, thoughts, beliefs, events. We bounce our reactions off each other. We grow together, change together. Even if we do not always agree on things, we are still being shaped together by our environment.
Then comes a parting of ways, whether geographically or ideologically.
Coming together again after many years can sometimes be jolting! We discover that we have grown in different directions than our friends have. They’ve experienced different environments than we. These varying environments have shaped each of us in different ways. We have been exposed to different ideas, from different sources. Even the same global events can be viewed very differently from varying perspectives. We form different opinions. The choices we make in life can be very disparate.
I have experienced several of these reunions, with varying reactions. Sometimes it seems as if we old friends have grown so radically different that there is no basis upon which to reunite in any sort of happy way. Or we may be able to relate to each other, and visit with each other, but must necessarily avoid certain subjects upon which we have diverged.
With other friends it seems there is a restoration of the closeness of friendship, despite obvious differences of ideology. We can accept each other, even knowing that we disagree on some core issues. We can once again visit together, share ideas, discover the other’s path over the intervening time, and learn from each other.
And then there are other friends who we discover have also grown. Their growth path may be different than ours, but there is evidence of flowering and change. And there is a recognition that we are more similar than we are different; it takes little effort to reconnect as we did of old.
What do these various types of reunions say about life? How much are we products of our environments?!! What causes some to get “stuck” in old ways of being, living, thinking, and believing? What happens to inquiring minds along the paths of life? Is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way?
Most importantly, how do we view each other? Do we accept the other, even when they may be in a radically different space? Do we attempt understanding? Or do we try to change their minds, get them to think “rightly” (presumably meaning think and believe like we do!)? Are we open to where they have gone in their own thinking and faith? Do we attempt to learn from them? Do we attempt to listen to what Spirit is saying to us through them? Or do we hunker down into our own “right” thinking and believing?
I don’t necessarily have answers to all these questions! But I think it is important to keep them in mind, maintain an open mind, as we encounter old friends and reconnect. These words are merely a reflection of my own experience this past year. I still haven’t figured out all the reunions; I am mulling over many of them. Other reunions have provided delightful new memories!
Paul Simon, one of the preeminent poets of my generation, penned the words of the song, Old Friends on the Bookends album oh so many years ago. It is remarkable that he was able, at a young age, to articulate what it feels like to age, and to get old alongside friends. He is now experiencing “. . . how terribly strange to be seventy!” And I am nearly there! How many more “old friends” will I encounter in the coming years?
Long ago it must be,
I have a photograph;
Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left you.