Thursday, June 28, 2012

Old Friends

From three weeks of work and travel into the social whirlwind. Started with a “Welcome to San Francisco!” party for granddaughter Zadie, old friends from the school, neighborhood and beyond paying their tribute to the little darling and catching up on our own news as well. Then piled into the car for the two-day drive to Portland, Oregon and the family reunion at my nephew’s wedding. Zadie was a heroic traveler, strapped in her car seat for some six hours straight until we tumbled out in Ashland, Oregon and spent the night with an old school colleague and Kerala’s 2nd grade teacher. Another five hours the next day, stopping at the gas station where an attendant took care of us—no self-service in the entire state of Oregon!—driving through the “Grass Seed Capital of the World,” seeing Mt. Hood in the distance as we approached Portland and got snarled in Istanbul-style traffic.

Dropped Kerala (and Zadie) at her college friend’s house and went on to my own college friends, where we passed a lovely few hours sitting out on the front and back porches on a summer night, under the enormous trees ubiquitous in the Portland neighborhoods, telling our new and remembering our old stories. Called one of our gang in New York and went through the list “What do you know about so and so?” Today we’ll visit another person who lived in the small village in Kerala, India with us some 32 years back and we’ll show all the photos from our trip back there last year.

The stories that come pouring out in these catch-up visits are enough to fill any novelist’s
idea bank. Big deals and losses like car accidents, cancer, divorce, troubled kids, losing parents and then the little things like the addition to the house or tree that fell down, the whole catastrophe told over wine or tea around the kitchen table or sitting on the front porch. Decades of histories between us, friends who used to sit around and spin out future dreams now grey-haired with faces marked by grief and disappointment, gratitude and joy, survivors all and none of us done yet, more dreams to reach for, from the upcoming Hawaii trip to hopes for grandchildren. I was reminded of that line from Gary Snyder’s poem, The Night Herons:

“…the joy of all the beings is in being older and tougher and eaten up. In the tubes and lanes of things, in the glorious cleansing treatment plants."

New friends are refreshing and a delight, but there is nothing like old friends who knew us back when and are still interested in knowing us now. In the words of poet W.H. Auden, may we “stagger forth rejoicing!”

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