Old Friends

Lost to me are how the lives of friends go
Like autumn leaves in Oklahoma wind

– Nanci Griffith, The Sun The Moon and the Stars

*****

I found myself stuck at home for five days after being diagnosed with pneumonia. After a few days of violent coughing spells I went in to my doctor and had chest x-rays that caused the diagnosis and anti-biotics being prescribed. I still had to spend a few idle days at home which allowed me time to think and to slowly continue with my purging and/or reorganizing of clutter, both in the house and in my mind.

I still have a long ways to go in both areas. I’ve managed to fill each with a lot of stuff.

The longest ten minutes of my doctor visit was the period of time between the x-rays and waiting for the doctor to review them and come back and report to me what he found. I wondered: what if they find a tumor? Due to my age and recent events that saw a friend diagnosed with lung and brain cancer seemingly out of the blue, I spent those ten minutes trying very hard not to think of such things. My friend began her chemo treatments three days after her diagnosis. Life changing. Mind-numbing. I stared at the floor and tried to clear such fatalistic thoughts from my head. I can’t say that I succeeded.

“Is our will good to go?”

“Where would I be buried?”

“What nuggets of wisdom do I need to pass on to my kids?”

“Have I told those who matter most how much I love them?”

And afterwards while driving from the clinic to the pharmacy:

“How much more crap do I need to eliminate from my life in order to focus on those things that matter most?”

Sobering, to say the least.

And after the diagnosis revealed it was merely pneumonia (I say “merely” only half-sarcastically. This is a nasty bug and it has knocked me on my ass more than once this past week) I began to shed those non-essential things in greater earnest. While cleaning up yet another stack of books I spent a few minutes reading through my revised edition of The Royal Path to Life, a book originally published in 1883 and written by T.L. Haines and L.W. Yaggy. I found the following passage at the end of a chapter called “Associates”:

“Old friends!” What a multitude of deep and varied emotions are called forth from the soul by the utterance of these two words. What thronging memories of other days crowd the brain when they are spoken. Ah, there is magic in the sound and the spell which it creates as both sad and pleasing. As we sit by our fireside while the winds are making wild melody throughout the walls of our cottage, and review the scenes of by-gone years which flit before us in swift succession. Dim and shadowy as the recollections of a dream. How those “old familiar faces” will rise up and haunt our vision with their will remembered features. But ah, where are they? Those friends of our youth. Those kindred spirits who shared our joy and sorrows when first we started in the pilgrimage of life. Companions of our early days.

I’m much too young to sit in a rocking chair and bemoan the loss of friends as I’m still in the prime of my life and blessed with more friends than ever with which to continue making great memories. At this point I have only had to bid a handful of them farewell, struck down too early in this life and now buried beneath the ground. True, the friends of my childhood are scattered and I don’t get to see or talk to them nearly as much as I’d like. But I have experienced the flip side to this in this age of social media. I have experienced the sadness that comes from reconnecting with one of those dear friends of youth only to find that today you have little to nothing in common. The boy who spent summer afternoons with you walking through the creeks around the golf course searching for lost golf balls with your bare feet and placing them in your socks for storage? He no longer exists. The other boy who explored fields on the outskirts of town, the ones where bad cowboys and wolves hid behind every fallen tree or patch of weeks, is unrecognizable now. The girl who taught you how to dig a hole in the ground, fill it carefully with water, mix in dirt and stir with a stick to make mud pies which would “bake” in her father’s charcoal grill for the rest of the afternoon when you were both eight years old.

The spirit of play and imagination, daring and fantasy gone, sucked dry by the adult world and responsibility and caution that comes with it.

I harbor no illusion that I haven’t changed as well. I know I have. For I not only miss those boys and girls of youth…I miss the boy who was me, too.

Sometimes
by Thomas S. Jones, Jr.

Across the fields of yesterday
He sometimes comes to me,
A little lad just back from play–
The lad I used to be. 

And yet he smiles so wistfully
Once he has crept within,
I wonder if he hopes to see
The man I might have been.

*****

To learn more about that little boy read Where I’m From, something I wrote two years ago yesterday.

PS: I’ve stayed in touch with Cheryl through the years. She’s a kindergarten teacher now, still living back home, and I suspect still possessing a tremendous imagination and playful spirit. And I bet she can still whip up a mean mud pie.

*****

Warning: Autumn and October always put me in a serenely melancholy and retrospective state of mind. I’ve a few posts started that, if published here, will continue in that vein.

*****

You can read each chapter or the entire book, The Royal Path of Life, online here.

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