Old Friends

Upon receiving the invitation, my first instinct was to say I couldn’t go. It was too far, I don’t have a job that allows me to choose my holidays, and it would cost a small fortune considering how long I’d be away. So I couldn’t go.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, either, which meant I wanted to go. It meant the too far/no holidays/too expensive reasons were not reason enough.

So I spoke to my principal, steeled myself for days of jet lag, cashed in all of my credit cards points, and went to celebrate the wedding of my best high school girlfriend. We met on the first day of school in grade nine in our first period class when she turned to me and observed, “You’re new” and introduced herself. And that was pretty much that.

When I mentioned the trip to my grade twelve students, one asked who my closest friends are and how we keep in touch. I understand this. International school students scatter after completing high school and there is understandable uncertainty over who they will and will not see again, normal for all young people at this age. I admitted that my old friends and I aren’t really in touch, an arrangement that we all understand and that works for us. The beginning of Covid saw us on multiple video calls, which had never happened before and has not happened since. But when we’re together, it’s like nothing has changed. We slot into each others’ lives like no time has passed even though years of space can lie between each meeting. We are comfortable around each other in ways that simply come from years of shared experiences, shared stories, a shared history that fits us all into a place where we understand the intricacies of our relationships to each other.

But, my student pressed on, are my relationships with old friends superficial because we aren’t in regular contact? This was perceptive and gave me pause, but the honest answer is no. No, these relationships are not superficial. They are instead deeply genuine because we remain friends because we want to, not because we have been thrown into a space together; rather, we actively choose to create that space. These friendships are intimate because we don’t need to explain ourselves since we understand one another due to so many years of knowing each other and watching as we all change and evolve. I don’t need to explain my darkest moments and how they have led me to today because these people were there back then.

Similarly, I can ask difficult questions because we’ve done it all before. I can be confronting because these are the people who are still with me, who have chosen to remain part of my life despite all the reasons people lose track of one another. And I can answer difficult questions honestly because old friends are not looking for casual, convenient relationships. It’s okay if times are tough or if the road is rocky. They are asking because they care about me, because they have cared for years about me. These are true friendships not because they are old friendships, but they are old friendships because they stem from deep roots.

I do not have very many old friends, rather many old acquaintances. I reintroduced myself to a few people I had known casually in the past and it was a pleasure to see where they are now, so many years later. But to spend a weekend with old friends, celebrating a beautiful moment in the life of someone we all love, was a truly special experience. The last time we were all together was at another wedding, in another place, in another life. And it was a joy to come together with these people and recognize that, despite the years and the time and the space, we still know each other. We still care about each other. And for that, I still call these people my friends. It is an honour to do so.

The road to the house of a friend is never long. – Danish proverb

Warnemünde, Germany – June 2022

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