“That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain
The happy highways where I went and cannot come again”
(…excerpt from a poem by A. E. Housman)
Men and women in 40 plus age group, esp. those who live far away from their birth place or homeland, have seen it all. A sudden rediscovery of old-time friends (and sometimes old relatives) on social media, followed by emotional reunions and confused reliving of all our old selves. It’s as if we have gone back in time. The dead characters come alive after 20 or 30 long years. These people are special to us. They are our old friends and hold value for us.
Old friends, like old swords, still are trusted best, said John Webster. Old friends can also be compared to old wine, old rice or even old jaggery. All these are reputed to be of best quality as they have ripened slowly, while standing the test of time before they became fine. They do not go rancid and they serve their purpose at all times. So it seems and so we want to believe. Other than this, very old friends bring back memories of a precious phase of our life – our childhood and early youth, our aimless giggling, fights and reconciliations, our sharing of life dreams and goals. Meeting these pals again in life is like looking into a mirror and we come face to face with our raw self.
All this may be true but there is another side to it. We can also compare old friends to old coins or to some very old piece of jewellery; items best used only for their vintage value, meant to be treasured and to be kept in one’s safe wallet or a locker. We never use old coins and we can’t wear very old-fashioned jewellery every day. Keep aside the antiques and relish them as per time and will. As per this logic, very old-time friendships are valuable but not real as they are not current, not hands-on. They exist more in our imagination. Harshly speaking, they are somewhat like some used paper napkin that was once fresh and very useful but having served its purpose, it has gone limp. After the initial mutual exchange of personalities during childhood days, after seeking each other’s company during youth, we may or may not be useful for each other in all times to come.
But deep in our hearts, we still want to believe that old friends are always better than the new. Even after all the years gone, we want to remember only the good in them. The problem with nostalgia is its selectivity. Nostalgia is a file that removes rough edges from the good old days, thus goes the saying. In reality, quite often old friends as well as our old-time relatives we haven’t met for a long time, may continue to be more demanding and less giving…so what if we now met them after many years. There may be too many expectations of loyalty from old timers whereas these values might have died long time back, at the time when we parted from them. Rather, there could be new feelings of insecurity, eg; female friends who get married around the same time, now meeting after say twenty years may end up mutually comparing their marriage or motherhood status, as well as their financial status. Only if their partners and their children get along well can their friendship revive again. Old feelings thus dampen or get deformed.
There are other external factors that may influence our old friendships. When we come across our school time best friends after say two to three decades, we expect them to still be our best friend but possibly they now feel closer to another common friend of ours, or to other members of our family. Even if these new buddies share no common past, but suppose they have common present, and if they all are currently residing in the same city or working in the same institute, their friendship will be more real whereas you are just a part of their memories of bygone times. Eventually, physical proximity maintains old friendships while distance can sadly kill these friendships once again even if we desperately try to revive them. Thus, most equations change after so many years.
More often than not, coming face-to-face with very old friends again may indeed feel like we never ever parted, but sometimes we may instinctively not feel close to them like we did in the past, or when we met them first in life. Some of these old timers will be overjoyed to see us while others feel strange and awkward, esp. on social media where we see them again, and also if we ever meet them in real. That’s because each friendship has a tenure. As if, whatever role they were destined to play in our lives is already over. As if, humans meet to fulfill some karma of give and take, of learning certain life lessons from each other, that of influencing each other’s lives, after which we move on.
Did that sound too heavy? So much for our ‘stale’ mates. Let’s analyse ‘new’ friendships.
New friendships begin on a blank slate. This slate has nothing good or bad already written about our fresh friends; no history, no nostalgia, no fixed impressions about our friends from our previously preconceived memories hence no expectations and no possible disillusionments or heartaches.
New friends are like freshly minted coins, useful in our current day-to-day life. They fit into our immediate environment where we live – our city, our neighborhood, our common children. These are friendships of convenience. There is a practical value sans any real or fake emotions or sentimentalism (as yet).
New friends may in fact end up valuing us more than our old friends. They are happy to have found us, as if we are some new rare discovery. They still have to prove their worth in our eyes so they try hard and never take us for granted. What begins as a budding curiosity about each other may slowly open up to unfold like a beautiful fragrant flower.
Another issue is, when we meet people at a very young age, as it happens with our very old time friends, our perceptions might have been somewhat faulty though friendships cute and open. For this reason, when we meet our old friends after a very long time, we find them changed beyond recognition. In comparison, our mature-age new friendships happen when we have seen enough life, when do not open up easily to everyone, so we tend to automatically and instinctively draw only those people into our lives who are good for us and more similar to us. It is due to our life long experience in dealing with people, that we immediately know whom we want or don’t want.
So dear friends (and acquaintances)!! Old will always remain precious, like diamonds and rare gold. But we also need other metals so as to live in our real world rather than continue to live in a make-believe world of memories. Let bygones be safely kept in the mind’s precious closet! Do meet them occasionally but not at the cost of your current life, or else you will be living in the past while they have moved on.
And yet, for all practical reasons, if old friends can become a part of your ‘current’ world, your city, your new family. Plus if you happen to get along well in current times, then that’s the best combination, where old timers continue to be our antique treasure but one that is usable and practical.
But here’s the risk! This new process of re-assessing, re-assimilating and re-defining old friendships may seem like starting another round of ‘friendship experiment’ with the very old same people who are/were known to us and yet now seem to be unknown. An experiment that may or may not succeed this time in life.
Do you agree with my post? Feel free to express your views on this topic, even if you totally disagree with my views.