Middling 1.1: Old Friends
I've recently taken up newslettering. Every three or four months I send out a long missive to friends and family members who are unlikely to send me a cease-and-desist letter. (If you'd like to get these missives, give me a shout.) I thought I'd post portions of those newsletters here. The theme of the newsletter is life in middle age, with a focus on what I'm reading, what I'm listening to, and how I'm living. What follows is a story from last fall. I hope you enjoy it. *** These days I spend a chunk of my time in airports. My work involves a decent amount of travel, lately including trips to California, Oklahoma and, fairly frequently, Illinois. On my most recent trip there I got to steal some time with one of my oldest friends, Chris. He was significant to my faith journey and best man at my wedding, but our lives stopped overlapping years ago, so finding time to see one another has been tough. Chris is better at keeping in touch than I am, but I think we both had resigned ourselves to an essentially virtual relationship. But this time I had some down time that happened to overlap with some of Chris's discretionary time, and so even though I was landlocked in an extreme northern suburb, and even though Chris lives in the city and had errands in the western suburbs, he did me the kindness of powering through the Chicago sprawl to come see me live and in person. Chris is "middling" too. We first got to know one another as idiot college freshmen—once even hitching a ride in a trunk together to get to the mall just so we could purchase the new U2 album (Rattle & Hum) and a bottle of Drakkar Noir cologne. (In our defense, that was for the ladies.) But now we're older—so much older. Chris has three daughters, only one of whom is still at home. One is now a college freshman herself, another even older than that. I don't think relationships are deeper in this season of life than in young adulthood, but I do think there's an attunement to poignancy that settles in over the course of decades. We walked the grounds of the retreat center where I was staying and talked and prayed together for a couple of hours, and even our prayers were older than they used to be. I thought I would be sad when he left, but I wasn't. Instead I felt a kind of satisfaction: This relationship, like so many others, can endure time and distance, in part because of the character of my friends (thank you, friends) and in part because friendship itself has a quality of perseverance that ages well. We can subvert that quality, I'm sure—dramatizing and even fetishizing our relationships till they can't bear the weight of our idolatry. But to receive friendship with thankfulness and to let our friends be and become who they are and were meant to be, I think, is to experience relationship and even humanity at its most basic and natural. It is to see good, and to enjoy the goodness.