They’re Still Worth Something
It’s always a bit strange meeting up with old friends. Life has a way of separating us. We naturally start to grow apart and head down different paths. Yet, we still consider them a friend for one very obvious, though often looked down on, reason: We were friends with them before.
Perhaps we grew up with them from kindergarten up until high school graduation - learning how to get in and out of trouble together. Partners in crime that felt like our brother or sister more than just some kid we went to school with from different families and/or neighborhoods.
Maybe we shared some of our most grueling and traumatic experiences with them, such as old military buddies that encouraged you to march a bit further even though your feet were bleeding. Or who hated the same shitty food with sand in it on long deployments in foreign countries.
Or perhaps they were that friend that was just as single and frustrated and crazy as you in your early adult years. Always there with a drink and an ear to share and talk about failed love affairs or the overwhelming stress of paying the rent next month.
But high school is long behind us, the military feels like a former life, and the single days rarely surface to our minds, if at all. Even our friends from those distant times have children and live in different parts from when we knew them and have fulfilling careers we never would have guessed for them.
The truth is, reality has set our lives mountains and (sometimes) oceans apart - metaphorically and geographically.
We know very little of their worlds and they know just as little of ours, depending on how much we share on social media. Nonetheless, the real life of the person is rarely displayed in true colors there. Quite honestly, if they were introduced to us today as a stranger, we may be polite, maybe even engaging, but we wouldn’t get close to them.
Despite our lives taking different courses, most often for the best, it can be surprisingly beneficial to catch up with these old friends. They offer us a channel to access older versions of ourselves. This may not be all that useful in our current day-to-day lives, but it can offer valuable insight into ourselves in the long run.
Being a foreigner in my wife’s country, I carry my past with me only by rare photos and the occasional story. Yet, as we spent time together, she has gotten to see old friends from different parts of my life allowing her to get a different glimpse of who I was before I became the man she is with today.
It was strange a first, be it an old military buddy telling war stories or an old friend talking about silly nights out for birthdays. Yet, it made me realize an invaluable nugget of truth.
With an old friend, we have the ability to look at our journey. The trail we have followed or blazed on our adventure to becoming the person we are today.
Where we have been and what we have done, at least in some part is treasured in the depths of our old friend in memories. We get to see how we have changed and grown over time. We get to remember what was once difficult for us. We get to laugh about things we once truly enjoyed and have all but forgotten today.
The human mind is complex and can be unforgiving at times. Or quite simply protective of our fragility. As we grow, psychologically more so than physically, we advance from one stage to another. And as we develop ourselves, we start to get rid of certain parts of ourselves, especially our past. We can call it ‘baggage’, and it is a good thing to move forward without carrying around the weight of the past.
Yet, just because we shouldn’t live in our past or be defined by our past; it is not to say that we should be indifferent and merciless to our past and the perspectives we held then.
True, these former lives may feel stupid now:
The reason we fought our parents at 13. We may even feel shameful for being so horrendous and rebellious as we were then.
How pathetic it was to feel lonely at 21. The way we hung on to our friends back then. Every joke seemed essential for connection and survival.
At 25, we realized we felt so lost and scared about what to do with our lives.
Old friends can connect us to the former selves that we have forgotten about or discarded much like a novelist can connect us with a character we grew to care for.
The old friend is there to remind you of what you once learned, quite possibly the hard way.
Sure being a single man had its fun, and it may seem like the better option after 15 years of marriage. However, the old friend will remind you how miserable and desperate you were back then to have something real and to have someone close you could count on - to make you laugh or to support your dreams.
We go through life in what feels like a video game of trying to make it to the next level or as a student trying to get a passing grade to make it to the next school year. And just like a student who studies to pass, once we get to the next grade, we seem to leave behind what we learned in order to get there.
In the case of life and growing up, we give up some pretty imperative wisdom that we gained in earlier experiences. In every stage we go through, we acquire some kind of knowledge. That’s the knowledge we should keep and build on so as to not have to repeat the lesson.
My wife had a boss that really took her under his wing when she just started in the restaurant business. What made him such a great boss was remembering his own climb to the top. He remembered having to learn the ropes of the industry and taught her as if he was teaching a younger version of himself.
We should apply that same insight into ourselves and others: whether it is learning new philosophies of life, raising children, or being better lovers. By remembering how difficult it was growing up or how grateful we were when our partner first looked at us with love in their eyes; we can maintain a higher level of gratitude and appreciation for ourselves and those around us. Or in another sense, not take for granted what we have spent our whole lives working towards.
It may be awkward at times, or even painful, but old friends give us charming and key parts of ourselves we need to be reminded of from time to time. And let’s not forget, it always feels pretty good to laugh about how wide-eyed and reckless we once were.