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Old Friends

13 November 2012, 08:45

Old Friends
Old Friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
Newspaper blowin' through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old 
Old Friends
Winter companions the old men
Lost in their overcoats
Waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy...
Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fear
time it was
It was a time
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you

Listening to this Simon and Garfunkel classic got me thinking about friends, and what friendship means.

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family is the way the old saying goes. This is patently untrue, as anyone has discovered when a friend is in need of some sort. You go to the same effort to help them out as you would your family, or you’re no friend at all.

Friendship is that unique state of being able to sit together for hours without saying a word, or pouring out your heart, or sharing your grief, or painting your dreams. I’m in the fortunate position of having married my best friend thirty-four years ago, and the friendship has deepened over the years.

The wonderful thing about friendship is the qualities friends bring out in each other. Friends allow you to be yourself in totality, while being someone else as well, because we react differently to different friends and they in turn behave as a catalyst. Your friends are different when they’re alone with you, than they are in a group. Everyone seems to bring out something that only they are capable of doing.

Turning briefly to the Bible, Jonathan loved David so dearly that he defied his father, King Saul, and helped David make his getaway. When Jonathan was killed in battle, David mourned for him as he would have a child.

Friends share interests, or perhaps none at all. Friendship is one of the unexplained marvels of the human condition. And it extends beyond humans, of course. When you’re sick and sad, the state where you’re beyond human help, a cat is preferable to a dog. A cat will lie on the bed with you, where a dog doesn’t know how to moderate its behaviour. People will usually talk, and that’s not what you need right then.

A dog is a friend that will never leave you, unlike a cat. He will lay down his life for you, because you are, in essence, his god. You may regard him as a friend, but he regards you as something far greater.

It has been discovered by entomologists, that ants form friendships, and they have seen ants go frantic, trying to free another ant from a spider web. Ichthyologists have observed the same thing in fish. Fish swimming in pairs and going frantic when the other is eaten.

Friendship is a marvel, and it’s a marvel no-one can explain. There is no reason for it and it serves no purpose. I have friends who are atheists, so it’s not necessarily common interests, and we have hugely entertaining conversations. I have friends who are Christians although, strangely enough, fewer than you would think.

Steel sharpens steel, so I have better conversations with my unbelieving friends than with my Christian friends. They keep me on my toes, so to speak, and keep me honest, because no-one picks up on your fault quicker than an unbeliever, even if he is your friend.

Friends are a large part of what makes life worthwhile, and help you over humps that someone more closely connected could not. They know you well enough to know when you need a shoulder, and when you need a kick in the bum. And are willing to offer either.

Friends grow old together, and can bicker like old married couples, because if two people get together, there will be misunderstanding and friction.

But friends, in the end, are just that.


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