A few years ago, I attended the funeral of the father of two of my closest childhood friends, a brother and sister. We had been the best of friends for many many years. As we grew older, we began to see less of each other, until finally we hardly ever managed to meet up at all. So through the emotional and sombre service, I remembered the times the three of us had played together, and grown together. After the service, at the shaking of hands, I gave the brother a hug. He had grown tall and broad of shoulder, but something didn’t quite seem right. I felt odd, standing in front of him.
“It’s been a long time since we were children,” he said.
I frowned, ever so slightly. I nodded almost mutely, feeling out of place and slightly embarrassed.
“NO.” said the voice in my head. “We were children just a few days ago. We’re still children! What difference does it make!?”
I tried one last time. “What are you doing later?”
“Not sure,” he said. “You want to grab a few drinks?”
“That would be good,” I said, my heart lifting.
He smiled solemnly. “I’ll give you a call later.”
I never heard from him. Not then, and not since.
That day somehow sent the benchmark for all other friendships. Maybe I did have some romanticised notion that through the tragic death of a loved one, we would reconnect and become at least some faint shadow of what we once had been. But I remembered them as they had been as vividly as I did myself. I still wanted to play Mario on the NES and bike polo with hockey sticks and a tennis ball.
Eventually, I shrugged it off and I moved on. There was no other choice. But it made me pay closer attention to my friendships, and in fact to people in general, when it came to the relationship between love, friendship, and memory. How much of a factor is distance when the survival of friendship is concerned? For me, when it comes to the people that I love, distance matters very little. I may not have the luxury of seeing my further flung friends frequently, but I feel no less for them because of it, and want to see them all the more. I am surprised by how easily people can push a friendship aside and move on, because it’s too much effort, or simply doesn’t suit their current lifestyle.
However, memory seems to also play an important role in determining whether an acquaintance could turn into a friend, and whether that friendship will then survive. As I mentioned above, my memory is very visual and intact. For a long time, I assumed everyone else was the same. I have been chronically disabused of that notion to more realistic expectations. However, I was not prepared for the extreme to which memory can fail a person. I was speaking with a friend whom I have known for over twenty years, when the subject of remembering people came up.
“I’m completely hopeless, ” he said. “A guy came up to me the other day and said “Hey, _____, how are you?” I didn’t have a clue who he was.”
I nodded, not finding this particularly strange. We’ve all been there.
“The thing is,” my friend went on. “It turned out we had worked together for over a year and he even lived with me for awhile.”
My eyebrows did a little dance and I sputtered my drink. “What?!”
I resisted suggesting he see a doctor, and took it with a grain of salt. I knew well that this friend was highly selective about everything, but I didn’t quite buy into his story. But still, some memories are woeful, and if someone doesn’t even fully remember me, for whatever reason, should I really take umbrage if they don’t burst into songs and hugs at a time of re-acquaintance?
Most recently, I was asked to validate a rather strange analysis of my public persona. “Would you say it’s true that when you were in school (seventeen years of age or so), people didn’t really know you? And would it also be conversely true that people in your life now know you quite well?”
Both statements are true at face value, but I could safely say that is probably the case with most people. At seventeen years of age, we are all vying for a place in a difficult world. We have only recently learned how to conceal our less flattering characteristics, how to talk in our quiet voice, how to play the game. As such, we don’t have enough mental time and energy to also go figuring everyone else out. As the years go by, and we fall into a comfortable pattern of performance, we also learn the patterns of our friends and those close to us.
I personally addressed the issue of friendship and memory not long ago when I decided to treat myself to a Facebook “culling”. Compared to other FB buddies, I only had a pitiful 165 friends, but I was certain that the majority of those were not, actually, friends at all. But before I did the dreaded deed of “unfriending” on whims and lollipops, I tried to set myself rules. They didn’t pan out one hundred per cent, but this is how I chose my victims:
1. If you were a real life friend, or a fond or slightly fond acquaintance that I saw frequently, infrequently or even hardly ever, you were safe.
It got complicated immediately after this point.
2. If you were someone from my past (say school or college) with whom I was friends, or fond, or slightly fond, you were safe.
3. If you were someone either from my past or not, of whom I was either at the time fond or not, but you now made an effort and interacted with me on Facebook, you were safe.
That left me with 133 friends. Of the bereft “unfriended”, two have expressed their hurt and sorrow at their rejection. I couldn’t believe it. I went back through the list, determined to bring it down to 100. But every time I hovered over someone, I chickened out. I am happy to say that some in the third category actually make me like Facebook. There WILL be another culling. I just need to find the courage. Many are on the edge. BE WARNED. And I know you’re shaking in your boots. Bear in mind, this is my own personal experiment. I could just as easily have taken the wisdom of a fellow FB thinker and watched my “ever growing list of people I don’t even know”. I’m surprised FB haven’t invented “Bluetooth FB”, where you can just, like, FRIEND everyone in the BAR?
Digression is fantastic.
But I digress.
A drift occurs, fuelled by the changes in life, and the naive belief that either one can go back and revisit any time that suits, or that some separation is inevitable and normal. The problem with drifting is, of course, that one can drift too far, and the way back is lost. For me, friendship is closely tied to my theory of life being a tale of yesterday’s tomorrows. We can spend so much time thinking about “tomorrow”, that we often dismiss the events of today as items of lesser importance. And, with true domino effect, we can find ourselves beyond the limits of our own recovery.
When I take true stock of my friendships today, I see that I have chosen both wisely and unwisely. Sometimes, I have surprised by the failure of the duty of care from what I would have considered my closest friends, and equally surprised by the effort put in by others.
There is always an adage to support these things: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
It’s true. The absolute test is hardship. If your mates are still there on the blackest of days, checking up on you, they’re keepers. And it doesn’t matter if they’re not the closest to you. Sometimes a roast chicken and potatoes does wonders. Sometimes a pint of the black stuff. And I salute you, and hope that there’s someone there beside you to tell you that everything’s going to be alright, even and especially if they don’t know it themselves.