He walked into the restaurant still larger than life. This 6’7″ guy, who was a lot older than this little girl remembered, swaggered into the room with a huge smile on his face as he saw his former neighbors. We hadn’t seen him in over 40 years and yet it felt by the end of dinner that we had talked a lot over the years. He was so happy to see my dad and my aunt, and he thanked them more times about how they looked after him as a kid.
We grew up on a special block with 20 houses and a park at the end of the street. The kids ranged in age from a few years younger than me to ten or so years older than me. Everyone moved to the suburbs from the city, bringing with them stick ball and the neighborhood feel of talking to and being friends with each other. Glen’s mom worked, she was one of the few working mom’s on the street so my mom and aunt brought him places with us. My dad was his baseball coach. And my brother’s were his friends. We reminisced about our great block parties, baseball games, my aunt’s car that was smaller than anything anyone had at that time and that entire time of our lives. It didn’t seem to miss a beat, old friends who share values, experiences, and love.
What is it about the people who you grow up with that allows for these moments? I have other friends who I have reconnected with that I was very close to in high school and college. We lost touch for a while, life taking us different directions and then put us on a collision course to reconnect and care for and love each other as we once did. The reconnection feels natural, and, at times, like there was never the gap.
These are the people who share backgrounds with you, experiences with you and values. They know you at your core, the type of person you are without all the trauma, hurt, and bullshit that life has thrown you and piled onto you. These friends know you, at times, better than you know yourself. And they are forgiving, sometimes more forgiving than those who have been by your side. They are quick to remind you that life does get hard, and we all have off times, reactions we aren’t proud of and feelings of unworthiness etc. They don’t seem exasperated if you need to talk about the same feelings you have been battling over time. They allow you to be you, more than some others.
Nostalgia is some of it, the old feeling familiar. But a big key that I see is that you pick up where you are without judgment about how you got there. As Rick Allen (the one armed drummer of Def Leppard) once said in an interview, “we all have traumas in our lives, some are bigger than others but we all have them. We need to be kinder to each other about them and know that the trauma is what promotes our growth.”
Yes we should celebrate those who have stuck by us through the trauma and feel blessed by those friendships. We should also celebrate those who we reconnect with and feel the same love for as we did all those years ago. Both are important in our lives and for our journey.
Old friends, reminders of simpler times and perhaps the impetus to get back to our more simple selves. Shed the stigmas that we have given ourselves, the labels we have amassed and become that little girl who grew up watching all the big boys play stickball or baseball. Become that high schooler who laughed with abandon and lived more in the moment. Be the person you were before you judged yourself so harshly, and allowed others to judge you. Be the person these old friends think you are, and that you know you are.