I had lunch with an old, old friend at Rochester Deli today. We were supposed to get together last week, but something came up and he had to cancel. When he texted today that he was free, I made time and we went.
When I say old old, I don't mean he was old, but our friendship is. We go way back to the late 80's and early 90's. His name is Bill and he is one of the funniest friends I have. He's just a lot of fun to be around. He does great impressions and loves being the life of the party. At one point he had aspirations to become a standup comedian. People are attracted to him because he's a warm person and his ability to laugh at himself at times is an endearing trait - at least it is for me. I've always had that trait, I think it comes from my mother who, at age 80, can still laugh at herself when she does something dumb. People that are incapable of laughing at themselves a little bit strike me as too uptight. Life is too short.
Anyhow, I haven't seen Bill for over a year. We usually get together for lunch once a year - at least, and it had been a while. When I got in his car it was just like we had seen each other yesterday. Picked it right up where we left off. That is the sign of a good friend. One who accepts you for all of your faults and quirks, and can almost peer into your soul to see how you're "really" doing.
There's a comfort level with these kinds of friends that you sometimes don't have with other, more casual friends. You don't worry about those "awkward pauses" because there usually aren't any, or, if there are, you're okay with them.
Usually, you don't have any limitations with what you can talk to these friends about either. Today we hit upon work, church, my book, health issues, and the hair raising life of a house full of teenagers. (I have 2, he has 5 in the house at the moment.) We talked about old times, the uncertain albeit exciting future, and the day-to-day drudgery of February in Wisconsin.
In a way, we are each other's therapist. Lunchtime psychotherapy for the cost of a Devonshire Panini. Unlike therapists though, we're not out to fix each other, but rather to hear the other out. Maybe we give a couple of tips or ideas if something is especially heavy, but for the most part, we're just there to say, "Oh yeah, I hear ya man." Sometimes that takes the problem and punches it in the face a bit. Sometimes it's helpful to know that someone has gone through it or at least winces with empathy. That's the therapy that works best for me.
Another of my close friends, Pat, still lives in Minnesota. We grew up together in the Parochial school system, both of us rode the bench on the football team, floundered our early days in college together, and he's the one I credit for bringing me to faith. The underlying thing between us - and I allude to this in my book a bit - is our sense of humor.
Back in High School and College, some of the best memories I have were of sitting with Pat at Perkins for hours, drinking pots of bad coffee and laughing until the wee morning hours. In between the bouts of uncontrollable silliness though, were discussions of great importance at the time. We were making our way in the world and we needed sounding boards to make sure we didn't mess up too bad. There were times we'd go from laughing to dead seriousness -or sometimes even tears - within the same cup of coffee. The laughter helped get through the tough stuff, but you needed someone who would do both with you, and do it with grace and support and sometimes a kick in the pants.
Sometimes I miss those days of long, deep conversations over bad coffee. My wife will attest that I've taken to talking to people - sometimes strangers - at great length because I find them interesting. It's a weird phenomena that I can't explain, kind of like the smooth jazz phase of my life right after I turned 40. (A phase I'm glad I put behind me.) I'm still trying to figure out what's wrong with me; I'm an introvert, remember? I'm not supposed to linger in conversation with strangers. But lately I can hardly help myself. This whole change is probably deserving of its own post later.
Anyhow, I have maybe a dozen close male friends that I feel I could call tomorrow and pick up exactly where we left off, be it two days ago or twenty years ago. Some are closer to me than others, but all have the same like-able qualities, the love of laughter and an appreciation for what each of us bring to the others' life. I'm thankful for each one of them and I think it's a two way street.
So remember, if an old friend calls you and asks you to lunch, be sure and MAKE TIME. Your therapist recommends it.