In June of 2009, Neil and I spent an obscene amount of money on concert tickets – more so than ever before or since. We rationalised this, as the Australian Prime Minister of the day had declared that in order to “stimulate the economy” he would send folk with children a cheque for around $900. Or was it $900 per adult? Anyway, it was a windfall which we considered we hadn’t earned, therefore could justify splashing out to “stimulate the economy” in our own way.
The concert in question was the return of the beloved folk duo Simon and Garfunkel to Australia after 25 years. The pair, who were most active in the 1960’s and 1970’s, painted an essential soundscape to that era with beautiful songs including “The Sound of Silence”, “Bridge over Troubled Water “and “Scarborough Fair”.
Hearing any renowned musicians live is something in itself, but the significant thing about Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is that they broke up in the mid-1970’s, and most people assumed they would never have the chance to hear them together again. So the prospect of them, here, in Brisbane, musicians whose songs not only we loved, but also had my parents, was too good to pass up.
And fittingly, their tour was entitled “Old Friends”.
A review reported: “Large screens lit up the audience to start the show, and a brief film containing footage and photos from the past 50 years illustrated the history they share, before they took the stage alone to perform “Old Friends/Bookends”. Two unique and unmistakable voices then melted together.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friends and the important part they play in our lives. Some of this I expressed in my previous post “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”
There is a concept (derived from an anonymous poem) that friends are for a reason, a season or a lifetime. In my view this appears to be so. I believe our hearts, however, keep a special place for Old Friends.
Old friends are those who knew you long ago. Who were part of your growing up. When you were still working out who you were, and where you fit in. That you shared parts of yourself with, and they with you.
You knew their family: perhaps siblings, perhaps parents. You shared an activity, or a school, or a workplace, or had some other connection that drew you together regularly.
But, importantly, you had enough in common, enough to bind you together, that when the shared situation changed, the relationship did not.
I have been positively surprised in some cases, and saddened in others that people who I considered “Good Friends” in my younger years seemed to melt away when the going got tough, but then others stepped up and showed hidden strength. It is also said that you don’t know who your true friends are until the “chips are down”.
I have found that to be the case. When my Dad died in my first week of University (I was 17), both my new boyfriend and a longer-term school friend made a point of attending the funeral. I knew that they were basically there for me and I have never forgotten them supporting me when I really needed it.
Many people seem to think that, as they have a close family, that is surely enough, and they don’t need friends, but this is not so. A grandmother, for example may dearly love her teenage grandson but also worry about him and his risk-taking behavior, including too many late nights and frequent skateboard accidents. Family connections are most times a mix of opposites: love and concern, rights and responsibilities. Whereas true friendships are largely weighted towards giving positive energy.
For those who are interested in these things…there is a growing area of neuroscience proving that social bonding sharpens brain function. It also extends life, according to a recent Australian Study, which followed 1500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent.
My Grandmother, Muriel, exemplified this. Widowed in her early 50’s, she and her 3 close female friends Maudie, Marge and Jean were inseparable. The trio became essentially additional relatives to all us kids as they attended my cousins’ sporting events, our music performances and various family functions. The four ladies roared around in my Grandma’s car “The Red Terror” and met weekly for Lawn Bowls and Bridge Card Games as well as other activities. At one stage a gentleman from the Bowling Club took an interest in Grandma and various family members encouraged her to “Go for it”. She famously retorted, “I’d rather have a cuppa Tea!”
In the last few years of her life all this changed. The eldest of her close friends, Jean, moved into Aged Care some distance away. Her closest friend Margie died. Maudie became more frail and relocated to live with her son. Grandma started turning up unannounced at our place for no particular reason, just stating, “I’m sick of my own company”. She gradually became unwell herself and spent the last year of her life in Nursing Care. We believe the loss of the “Gang of Four” had contributed to this marvelous, capable matriarch of the whole family simply losing her zest for life.
For my own part, as shared previously, I have lived in a number of locations now, and have made some friends in each of them along the way. However it’s interesting to note that I have “kept up” with only a small proportion. Other relationships have been renewed in the last year or so by the phenomenon of Facebook. Even so, of my (the system tells me) 280 friends, I only communicate regularly with a small fraction of them, too.
As for “Old Friends”, the last 12 months has been very significant for me. I have communicated, initially by email and then by phone with two significant friends from years gone by. Hearing a voice from the past after 16 years and 24 years respectively was a mixture of wonder, anxiety and excitement. It’s amazing how someone’s tone of voice, inflection, warmth, and especially the way they laugh just is so much part of who they are. And despite the significant lengths of time apart, the knowledge and understanding of these Old Friends at a base level shone through and before too long conversation flowed as if that time span was days or weeks, not years.
Also, I have caught up, in person, with two girlfriends after a gap of around ten years.
A recent coffee with Margie, who was very special to me in my teenage and young adult years, and whose family became my second family, merged into breakfast, then morphed into a 3-hour talkfest. There is something just magic about a friend, part of whose history is also your history.
And an intriguing sense of “But there for the grace of God go I” as you recognize that from shared beginnings (in this case equivalent, as youngsters, violin skills) divergent paths have led to different outcomes in careers and accomplishments – for her as a stunning professional performer.
In all four cases, the years have just melted away and despite all the life events in between – spouses, growing children, careers, changes in location…the underlying relationship, the knowledge and understanding of the other person still seems to remain. No need to explain every little detail, but the wondrous ability to tap into the Old Friend’s wavelength of you, each understanding at a basic level what makes the other person tick and appreciating who they are. And someone who knows you so well that they can even give you a bit of a “talking to”, if needed, because there is not the fear – as with a new acquaintance – that the truth is too hard to share.
Some say, “You cannot go back”. My experience tells me otherwise. I believe it is true that you can’t go back and expect everything to be exactly the same…but ultimately, times and circumstances change, but people remain.
And logically, what brought you together with a true friend, no matter how long ago that may be, a part of that still also remains.
So I would encourage you, if you ever look through an old photo album, or hear a name, and wonder what that person is doing now, where they have gone with their life, try to track them down and make contact again.
Life is too short to be left wondering…when you could rediscover the unique joy of an Old Friend.