Old Friends (Part 1)


Each of us has events in our past that, in retrospect, have been pivotal in our development. Sometimes they are specific items or times; on other occasions, they are prolonged. One such in the latter category for me was the choice I made for some reason to take four years of Latin when I was in high school.

Reminiscing about the profit of that activity takes me many directions. I learned English much better; I encountered history I did not know; I was surrounded by other serious students who stimulated me. Furthermore, for the latter three years I had a remarkable teacher who modeled solid scholarship, intuition, discipline, and moral teaching.

During the final year the material was most difficult as we translated a sizable portion of De Amicitia by the Roman Statesman and Author, Cicero. This was a treatise on friendship and the teacher, Helen Biery, pulled the material from that book of 44 BC and it came alive for us. One has friends at every age, so the material made sense and was applicable even in high school. Furthermore, at least in my case, the study gave me a set of expectations of how to be a friend and what to expect from friends.

In my life right now, I have some old friends. There is a double meaning there for the word “old,” and both are correct. On one hand, I have known some of these friends for decades. On the other hand, a good set of those friends are (as am I) getting chronologically old.

I am wondering about these two meanings of that word and how they might inform me at my current position in life. Author Will Willimon notes that followers of God are expected to give testimony to God at every stage of life; that includes retirement, aging, sickness, and death. Those may not be stages for you right now, but they are waiting for all of us. We could logically ask, “Where is God leading me at this stage of life?” 

One approach is to use friendship as a guide. That is, I am trying to pay close attention to the words, behaviors, goals, and struggles of my “old” friends and see if they can, either consciously or unconsciously, smooth out wrinkles in my life. In a sense, I am reminiscing about the past as well as problem-solving for today by leaning on what my friends add to my life. What follows here are things I have noticed and learned from.

When speaking to someone, do you ever have the feeling that you have told this story before to the same person? I never used to think that, but I wonder often now. I have friends who do, indeed, have repeat stories. It is my desire to be patient, just as they are patient with me. Many life stories may seem trivial to others, but they are stuck in the teller’s memories for good reason. Simply telling the story again allows one to relish in the scene again, to hear the voices of the participants, to smell the aromas, to feel the air. Recounting the familiar keeps us grounded in what and who made us the way we are. There is no reason to try to take that away.

Some of my friends are blunter than they used to be. I believe I have learned something from them. Finding the balance between the scripture about “speaking the truth in love” and speaking the truth, period, is not easy, but perhaps age gives the privilege and requirement to be more straightforward. The amount of untruthfulness (beginning with the ex-President) in this country is astounding. Oliver Wendell Holmes has a wonderful passage about older age liberating us from having to maintain certain postures and pretentions; we have less need to prove anything to anyone. My old friends are modeling that the past complexities of their lives have been replaced by some simplicities and that those simplicities allow them to see stupidity, deceit, and falsehood more clearly—and to point them out.

My old friends have taught me much more that I am pondering; there is more to come here. When we think about what we had hoped to accomplish in life and what we have done so far, it causes us to think seriously. Perhaps we can think about this together.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

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