Wednesday, March 13, 2024


  It is fair to ask what keeps me returning to these blog pages. After all, I’m the guy who sometimes tells himself that it’s time to head for the sidelines, that I’ve run out of October (and November) things to say. Yet  at least so far, it seems like every time I get in that space something like the following bit of elder wisdom has me thinking second thoughts.

 “For people like me the notion that ‘old age is a time to dial it down and play it safe’ is a cop-out. Those of us who are still able to do so should be raising a bit of hell on behalf of whatever we care about.

 Lest you think I am that bold, those are the words of Parker J. Palmer, from his book On the Brink of Everything — Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. It is a book I am pleased to recommend, and especially the implied permission it gives us late-lifers to continue with our own low-grade ‘hell raising.’

 Later, in those same pages Palmer adds, “I may be old, but I’m still a member of this community. I have a voice and things I need to say. I want to be part of the conversation.” 

With that in mind I invite you to consider the following bit of elder-babble.

 No matter what our age, our life-journey has included its share of highs and lows, twists and turns. Drawing on our own recollections we can track our personal life path in many different ways… terms of our school and work history, the things we have done and not done, how successful or unsuccessful our efforts have been, or the family we have helped create. Like a wilderness explorer blazing a trail through the forest we have left all sorts of personal markers in our wake.

 For reasons I am not sure I understand I have spent time recently focusing on one of those of those life-journey trail markers……namely, the most impactful friends I have made along the way, and how they have helped me become the person I am. 

 We humans have a habit of blaming someone else or something else for what goes wrong in our life, while at the same time we are apt to take full credit when things turn out right. Truth is, we too often we fail to recognize the contributions of our friends and allies……especially the ‘best friends’ we have made along our journey to today.

 The logic of it seems so sound to me, so rational. Everyone needs and wants friends. They help complete the person we are……filling in the blanks that are part of every life. That was true in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood. It is still true even in elderhood.

 I am one of those who believe that deep friendships are not a matter of random choice. They happen because mutual needs are being met. It is also true that over the years our needs have changed, replaced by new needs that lead us to new and different friendships. Over time those close friendships, including the ones we have left behind, can act as trail-blazing markers, helping us understand the story of our own Becoming.

 At different stages of our journey different friends have helped us learn different life lessons. In a real sense we can chart important parts of our own path to Becoming by remembering the best-friends we have won and lost along the way.  

That was the story I was dwelling on this morning, the notion that revisiting my own life-changing friendships might help me better understand the person I have become. Sadly, a closer look at my own ‘friendship’ history was enough to raise more than a little hell with that logic.

 It took me about five minutes to realize the truth of it. Perhaps that ‘friend-tracking’ idea does not actually apply to me. Instead of remembering a string of best-friends, and their contributions to the ‘me’ I am, what I came up with was largely a list of acquaintances, each of them something short of a ‘best friend,’ who have crossed my path over the years. 

 Though I certainly appreciate all those folks, when it comes to close, life-changing friendships……beyond the family circle that has always been central in my life……I was able to count just three, or perhaps four, individuals who seemed to have played the role I am describing. For some reason I expected, or perhaps ‘hoped,’ there would be more.

 As a youngster I had ‘friends,’ lots of friends. But I was an insular kid…..I stuttered, wore glasses, and was a bit of a nerd…..not the sort to be looking for, or finding, a best friend. Not until the ninth grade did my first ‘crush,’ a sweet young thing, come close to whatever ‘best-friend’ meant to me at that time. Before that could happen we had gone our separate ways.

 It was not until my sophomore year at Salem High that I created a real ‘best-friendship.’ Jay had a car, so we could get around. For two or three years we careened through high school together, giving each other permission to be a little crazy, living out adventures I would never have tried on my own. 

 And then there was the high-school girlfriend, the first girl I knew who seemed to like me just the way I was. Most of us have lived through that magical time, reveling in the attention, thankful for the affection. Until, that is, I left for college and ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ won out.

 Finally, in the exciting new world that was college, I would meet Roma, the one I was not willing to let out of my sight or mind. We met in our freshman year and spent 67 years together before she moved on to a better place. For literally decades her caring company continued to shape the person I was Becoming. Even today, nearly two years after her passing, she is still my Best Friend, the one I turn to most every day.

 So, returning to my original point, I believe that the close and meaningful friendships you and I have made in the course of our life journey, (no matter what their number or when they arrived on the scene), have most certainly played a role in our own Becoming. Though my personal list may be short, I know for sure that those folks have met that test. Beyond that, I seem to be learning there is still room for yet another ‘best friend’ on my journey to the end.

 Which brings me to today’s suggested homework assignment, one I highly recommend. The instructions are easy-peasy. Simply turn off the TV, crank the recliner back a notch or two, and close your eyes. If you haven’t dozed off by then, take the time to make a conscious return to your past. Introduce yourself to one or another of the once-close friends who have perhaps not crossed your mind in ages.

 With that old friend perched clearly in the front of your mind, ask yourself a few questions. What did you learn from your time with him or her? How might your life have been different had he or she not shown up when they did? Take the time to retrace some of your personal history, as marked by those best-friendships.

 Make that internal dialogue as real and personal as you dare. Dig as deep as your comfort zone allows. This is not about sharing your insights with anyone. It’s about you exploring you.

 Though I have no illusions of it happening, if you are so inclined I invite you to share your own bit of friend-related ‘hell raising’ with the rest of us……in an appropriate, abridged form, of course.

 What do you think? Might it be time to revisit one of the 'someones' who once played an important part in your life……to perhaps mentally thank, or scold, them for their role? Most of us recognize the ways we were shaped by parents and family. I’m not sure how many of us understand the important ways our friends and friendships have played a part. I think it’s worth the effort to see where that takes you.

 If you are so inclined, you night even consider forwarding this ‘best-friend’ bit of elder-thought to the one or ones who fit that description in your life, along with your ‘thanks’ for their contribution.

1 comment:

  1. Gil, I have probably known you longer than any other friend. A year ahead of us were other significant
    friends that have stayed in touch all these years. Evelyn Andrus, Margie Kronser, Bruce Stewart (math teacher at Parish, Bev and Bob Flood. The years are passing quickly now. I'm glad to call you friend. It's special because you married my friend from Linfield College, Roma Joy. They say we are fortunate for our long lives. I agree but it's difficult for me since I lost my two daughters. I'm now enjoying a simple, undemanding time of life. I'm grateful for my home with nice neighbors and my garden, and having a car for getting around town. I'm blessed to have my son and his fiancée living nearby. I enjoyed meeting your lovely daughter Amy. You are very fortune to have your son with you. I have nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. I just wish we were leaving behind a better world for them.
    I hope some of our other classmates check in.