Thursday, December 28, 2006

Old Friends

Aspazia wrote a touching post the other day on that feeling of never being able to outgrow one’s place in the family. Old discomforts and awkwardnesses persist regardless of how much you’ve changed or grown. But I’ve been thinking about the flip side of that sentiment.

In my circuitous journey through life thus far, I have met many, many people. Some unbelievably intelligent, others incredibly funny, still others caring and humane, but never have I found a cluster of people like the friends with whom I grew up. Yes, I know Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” and Heraclitus wrote “No man steps in the same river twice,” but they are both wrong.

The measure of a true friend is not whether he or she always remains a central player in your life. A better criteria is after getting separated in the daily hecticness, having pursued your projects and dreams, growing and changing, whether that old spark is still there, whether there is even a moment's hesitation before the old playfulness returns.

Stephen King ends “Stand By Me” with the line, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” I am incredibly blessed in true Comedist fashion to have those folks still with me. We can go decades between encounters, but put us in a room and there is the same pun-filled, movie quoting, old-joke making banter, the same affectionate ribbing, the same everything. It’s a different flavor from what you experience with your parents, children, or partner, but there is a kind of unconditional love from old friends that comes from a deep knowledge of who you are – they were there that night when you (fill in the blank) and that time when you (fill in the blank), and you never would have gotten through (fill in the blank) without them, so don’t even think of trying to put on airs. These are people you can’t bullshit. These are people with whom you are completely free to be who you are. And that sort of security lends itself to laughing, the sort of full body, soul-cleansing laughter that only comes from being in a place of love.

Gwydion is my oldest friend. He was the first person to ever say aloud my name spelled backwards. After leaving for college, we spoke on the phone occasionally and saw each other sporadically at best. Then he came to the graduate writing program at Hopkins where I was working on my doctorate one floor above. It was like we had never been separated. He introduced me to racquetball and it was like we were still eight – “O.k., this time you have to bounce it off one wall, over this line, hit it behind your back, turn around...” And now we have respectable careers, live-long loves, responsibilities we could never have imagined in Mrs. Tompakov’s first grade class, but to be in a room with him, and Egg, and You Know Who, and Mrs. You Know Who, and the rest of the gang is just like it was then. No one is as funny as old friends.