Old Friends (Part 2)


Some of my old friends are “old” because our friendship has extended multiple years. Others are “old” because of their chronologic age. A few fit both categories.

Regardless, I have found that old friends bring realities and truths to my life that are unique and important in my own growth. Sometimes confronting and sometimes uplifting, these friends seem to be able to see things about my life and what I need without even being told. Frequently, they do not even seem to know they are doing it.

One noticeable item is that these friends do not get agitated by politics as easily as my newer, younger friends. Skipping through names such as Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Ford, Johnson, two Bushes, Trump, and others as well as their governments and administration, one realizes that humans (even Presidents) come and go. Certainly, there are exceptions with the memories of some cranky, narrow-minded elders, but in many cases a positive mellowing seems to have occurred.

An important perception that age brings is to grow past dualism, a “we-they” mentality. This tendency to separate folks according to all manner of distinctives seems to be a human trap that has always existed. It is, frankly, ungodly. It allows us to demonize the adversary, however we define it. This exclusionary view of the world is a root of conflicts personally and internationally. Church walls are not boundaries to it. I suspect that you would agree with me that the current adversarial nature of our country indicates a great selfishness and inability to accept human diversity and gifts of others. 

Perhaps age gives one the vantage point of a mantel clock. Many of us have had such clocks in our houses throughout our lives. The clock may need winding, but otherwise just sits there and performs a single function—to tell us the time both visually and auditorily by chiming. From its perch on high, it has seen people and events come and go. We do not talk about the “face” of the clock without sensing that it might be watching us. On some occasions, an audio recording of a living room celebration or remembrance is made. It is not uncommon for a listener in subsequent years to hear the chiming of the mantel clock in the background, a reminder of the history in that room. Maybe aging gives us some abilities to see the room as the mantel clock sees it.

Certainly, my old friends enrich my life by listening well. Are you like I am and sometimes come up short in a conversation and realize that I have been doing 90 percent of the talking? The most gifted friends are those who will speak at the appropriate time. They will wait until they are asked to respond. Rather than interrupting, they will, with steady attention, listen to my heart. What are the fears, anxieties, joys, he is expressing?

This is not the time for giving advice, at least not until it is solicited. This is not the time for telling me how I should feel. This is not the time for a friend to connect my concerns with (perhaps) some similar problem of the friend; that invalidates my thoughts and diminishes the power I might have to think through my concern. It is true that sometimes one can address a concern simply by talking about it, but that, too, is a role a listening friend can play. What I really need is a listening friend who will support, help me clarify, trust, and encourage me. A listening friend is a power in a life, and we should strive to be such friends to others. Author Rachel Remen (My Grandfather’s Blessing) writes: “Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us . . . Listening creates a holy silence.”

My old friends continue to teach me. I am remembering today to sense their calmness amid temporal stupidity and events (such as politics). I am remembering their avoidance of “we-they” thinking, and I am appreciating the power of a friend listening to my heart through my words.

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

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