Searching, Searching, Searching,

Searching, Searching, Searching,

It happened again. Out of the blue, I heard from a friend who had been gone from my life for decades. Pam and I lived in the same neighborhood from the third grade through high school, and had been friends for most of that time. She and I attended the local Catholic church and requisite catechism classes, so we were stitched together more tightly than other, looser ties of childhood bind. The neighborhood passel of grade school kids we ran with grew into the girl gang of junior and senior high, and our relationship waxed and waned in all the usual ways for all the usual reasons as we became, in fits and starts, who we are. Late in high school – junior year, I think – we drifted apart (for good, I would have said a month ago), as our classes and interests and cliques changed. I was seriously BORED of EDUCATION, and determined to graduate early in my senior year, and work and study Downtown (as Chicago was always referred to. Here we say The City, to mean New York) until I left for college in that following fall. My family moved to another town then too, and my brothers changed schools, so everyday, informal, neighborly chances also fell away. When I left home I never looked back, molting out of childhood, shedding my whole skin, a butterfly  wanting to soar. I shared pieces and tidbits of my youth with Bruce, naturally, as our life grew together. But really, I never gave a thought to my childhood life and friends as anything other than memories. As anything other than a spring-trap, a morass, an un-windowed basement I had escaped.

A few months ago, Bruce had a similar experience – he heard from a childhood friend who found him on his company website. A pleasant surprise, but also unexpected, and also curious. While Bruce has deep attachments to West Virginia where he grew up, they are bonds to and of place, rather than people. He took me back to Holden once, and showed me all around the hollow (and drove fast on winding mountain roads!), but knocked on not one door. Over the years he has given more thought to his old friends than I mine, but even so, only in passing, uncompelled to weight his memories with present-ness.

Neither experience is the first for either of us. We have both heard from a handful of people in the past few years, and responded politely, but with no urgency or emotion or need. In fact we disregarded the reach-outs as odd, and – as harsh as it sounds – irrelevant. But now the accumulation is too much, I see a pattern, and I am a little undone by it all. I am asking everyone I talk to deeply, “Why?”

Why does anyone search for people from their past? And why now, at this point in life? What drives it? It appears developmental in its repetition, multiplicity. Don’t misunderstand – I am happy for the most recent occurrences. In both cases, it has been a rich and joyful experience to re-connect. Pam and I have been writing to each other, long and frequent letters about the past and present. Bruce and his old friend met recently during a convenient business trip, and found much in common, still, and reasons to stay in touch. I’m sure they will. But I am puzzled by it all. Because, I am not looking for anyone. What is the need?

Where I had gotten to about it all was an acknowledgement of a necessary, later stage of life: one of reflection, of coming to terms, of gaining perspective, of seeing the whole in context, where the past bears on the present. We have just encountered old friends in the act, becoming aware something we have come to know a little sooner. We are/were simply a part of their process towards an old-soul resolution of life and mortality and the finite.

I reencountered a Spanish idiom (while binge-watching a Netflix series, set in Mexico) that secured me in my understanding: El tiempo replace todos. I would translate this for you loosely as “time replaces everybody”, but here I’ll go deeper, because not doing so means something important is indeed lost in translation. Todos is plural in Spanish, to mean all people – as in a crowd. Whereas the words everybody, or everyone (an even less appropriate choice), denote individuals, even if collectively. The plural carries the meaning of the idiom better, as it conjures multitudes and process: time as a river, streaming, eddy-ing here and there, but continual, the flow of people riding its currents, endlessly moving on. I have always accepted the loss of people and friends and memories and meanings as a part of life. I have never expected anyone – not even family – to stay with me, forever. Except for Bruce.

And yet … Have I had I as good a friend as Pam in all the years since? I wonder. I am elated and hopeful at our reconnection, and curious to see if we can/have put our feet in the same river twice … If we will float alongside each other on the remainder of our journey(s), toward the inevitable, infinite sea.


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