There's a kind of time lapse effect that happens in my brain, at least, when the vision of my old friend before me is overlaid on the loved memory-image I've carried around in the intervening years. Your mind, well mine at least, spends some time simultaneously entertaining two hypotheses of what must be there beyond the image in my retina. And during that time, your mind (mine again) does what it does between frames of an animated cartoon--fills in the action. I see them age, in time-lapse, before me. It creates a sharp, tender shock.
|Where a person ends and where his friend begins is never entirely clear. Relationship is alchemy.|
It is at such moment when you realize that this life is made precious chiefly by those with whom we are privileged to share it. This privilege is only partly earned; it is mostly, I think, a gift.
Yesterday was the occasion of the retirement of one who has been my oldest, continuing, deep friendship in the UK. Those assembled were an old crowd of friends who started working together, when we were a generation younger. We built careers together, created and raised children, travelled together, and shared the myriad tiny triumphs and the inevitable personal failures that make up the rich pattern of any normal life. The pub rang all evening with the rich laughter of remembering. Wine flowed, and we broke bread. And that communion was not the end of the sacramental dimension of the evening.
|Every meal shared in joy and generosity is a communion.|
Many were with partners different from those we began with, and many who would have been there, had moved on to other climes and lives, as I have done. And so I thought it fitting, when toasting-time was ripe, to lift one "To absent friends."
"Absent friends". How that phrase stuck with me as I rode the train home to Manchester, which is soon to my home no longer, in a few days. Travelling, moving, and self-imposed exiles are often called "the curse of the Celt", and I've got it in spades. There as a lot of love in the room last night, but the truth is I have been a absent friend to these, and to more than these, and last night's reunion brought that home. Absence made a lot of hearts grow fonder, and the occasion and the wine helped too.
|An awareness of what is missing|
As every psychologist knows, memory has a in-built prestige-enhancing function, a mechanism by which the terrors fade, the joys remain and are morphed into a personal hagiography. We remember our kids talking earlier, the travels more joyous and not at all dull or difficult, and perhaps even the role we played in people's lives more central or essential. But we can remember things in no other way, at least not without professional help and careful reconstruction. What I remember feels real, so that's how I take it.
The memories I've hoarded from our shared past, along with a steamer trunk of hard-copy photographs, are no substitute for being there, and the wide gaps of time since we were dissevered, I from them, serve to remind that NOW is ever the only time we really actually live in. The rest is a story.
Don't misunderstand--last night was a rare joy. But I also got the sense during the prolonged hugs goodbye that more of us than just me wanted to have a good hard sob about where the years had gone, and how now as retirement, and the only possible end of retirement, begins to loom for us all, that we want another crack at doing over and doing BETTER the friendships that had so sustained us during a time in our lives when we were young and had the whole future--that which we now grow old in--ahead of us.
Listen to this is you can: