a Handwritten essay…

I could hardly believe, after all these years, that we were back in touch. Yet there it was, that cherished name from years past, on the glowing monitor before me. Jon and I had become friends lifetimes earlier. Nothing in particular had changed – other than the circumstances under which we had met. After a brief and bright few years at the same college, our association didn’t survive the normal relocations for other schools and jobs. 

An observation of his back then was that friendship is largely a function of time and place. I bristled at the sentiment at the time, still of the mind that a true connection will outlast them. Occasionally it does, but far more commonly, even deeply resonant attachments dissipate when conditions shift. Long experience has me now agreeing with my old friend.

Look there, I called him “my old friend.” That remains true regardless of whether we’d have reconnected. Now that we have, it’s even sweeter to think of him that way. As for his assertion about friendship, as I’ve come to echo it I’m all the more thankful for the exceptions. It’s become clear too that it’s hard to tell at the outset; I’ve been mistaken more than once in speculating which ones will last and which might fade away.

One of the fade-aways was Tom, another decades-dormant friendship that reemerged. We had been close as teens, and in contrast to coming across Jon online, this surprise reunion took place in person some years ago at my local grocery store. Short on time that day, we arranged to meet for coffee soon thereafter. 

We got to reacquaint ‘in real life,’ the lengthy exchange sweet and profound. My reference above to his fading away doesn’t refer only to losing touch ages ago; it repeated. Despite spoken intentions to the contrary, the heartfelt conversation over those few hours across a small table in a small cafe in our small town turned out to be all there was to it.

In light of both episodes, I’m left thinking about how we shape what catching-up consists of when we recap our life for someone after a long interim. Which events rise to the top, which descriptions and details come to the fore as worthy of mention from among the mega-shifts and minor details of intervening years? Certain aspects are obvious and natural to touch on — family, jobs, health. In weaving those facts and narratives though, we can’t help but amplify some and downplay others. 

I once complimented an acquaintance’s strikingly handsome appearance — and then quickly followed it with, “…but that’s not the most important thing about you.” Everyone noticed his fetching style and dress that day. It mattered to me to express that what initially garnered the most attention, mine included, was not what I was ultimately most interested in. 

When I am asked to outline the most important events of my past several years, it would be almost dishonest to omit the cancer diagnosis and its attendant health issues. And yet, when I’m presenting for an old friend the self-portrait, the life-landscape, it’s not a focal point – not the most important thing about me. I prefer to step behind it to explore how it has affected my sense of self, my evolving perspective. What was altered, what remained? That’s what interests me most about others’ experiences. 

Were I to encapsulate the years methodically, maybe I would string together the most prominent vignettes by themes: a list of tragedies, a list of joys, lists of pithy lessons learned, of those I’ve lost, of those who’ve stayed… It’s all so intermingled though. I doubt separating strands into categories would be fruitful – if it were doable at all. 

Of course, it isn’t. It’s a handwritten story — in cursive, one character joined to the next.

Is it easier to come up with the hard times than the good? At times it sure is. Hardships alter trajectory more starkly. But then, hard and good are seldom either-or. They’re silhouetted over one another, slightly askew.

When I wrote back to my onscreen friend, I took several paragraphs to summarize the unfoldings of many years, and then added a list of specific remembrances that sprang to mind from our life-overlap of back then. (Ok, so lists for some purposes are worthwhile.) His expression of gratitude for that list compounded my elation. And the nutshell he gave of his own life moved me, both in its particulars and in the reminder of the commonalities still to be found among each other’s unique realities.  

Whether or not we continue our written correspondence, what a gift it already is! 

It is not only a mutual gift between my friend and me to trade reflections and recollections of a time and relationship whose meaningfulness has stayed with us both. It is also an individual treasure, this opportunity to take the measure of how I see myself and how I tell the story. 

Reconnecting from this distance in time, far from the initial milieu, provides fresh appreciation of context and continuities, the long arc, the characters in cursive. No scene of a story is isolated from what comes before and after it, but this chance reencounter allows me to add an elegant little border around one page.

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