Old friends; best friends

Published 9:18 am Friday, May 12, 2017


We span the decades; these old friends of mine.

“We’re planning to go to the Kentucky Derby. Got any suggestions?” they called and asked me several months ago.

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I didn’t have any, really, other than my sage advice for them to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

“You haven’t changed,” Cindy laughed. “On the way back, we’ll be there for Sunday worship with you.”

Which they did, much to my delight.

A daughter, now an international missionary, gave a brief talk to our congregation. She’s only a few years younger than I was when I first met her parents, and Melinda, the other friend with them that day, was one of the first people I met there those many years ago.

“Time passed too quickly, didn’t it?” I asked rhetorically, somewhere in our conversation over lunch after church.

George Herbert, the 17th Century Anglican priest and poet observed, “The best mirror is an old friend.”

I looked at my old friends, and said, “You look great,” and I meant it.

But my old friends aren’t the same.

And neither am I.

We all know that. 

“Oh, yeah,” one chuckles, “I’m the same except for the extra 20 pounds.”

“You’ve lost too much weight,” another tells me.

“That makes me look older, too,” I thought.

But the mirror Herbert referred to is one that reveals something deeper than our aging bodies.

There’s a grace we receive in the presence of old friends that penetrates beneath the surface. Old friends know more about you than only your successes, your victories. Surface friends — the kind who only know each other through the annual Christmas and/or New Year’s letter exchange — are aware mainly of the good stuff: how many babies have been born the past year, the promotion Louise received, a picture of Billy graduating with honors, the exotic summer vacation in Cozumel. 

Not so the old friends: they are the ones who have joined hands with you for more than a few years and have walked through the valley of the shadows with you.

Old friends have been around long enough to watch how you began gung-ho in that verdant valley that dried into an ugly gulch, made possible in part by your own machinations.

And sometimes it wasn’t your doing, after all; you were ambushed, waiting for the Calvary, which never arrived, and so you were left for dead. 

In either case, the old friends — these loyal ones who didn’t cut and run but remained with you to repair the wagon train — these are the ones you trust, the ones you don’t have to explain the whys to, anymore. For that doesn’t matter, anymore.

And if you hadn’t been there for them, too, hadn’t been there through some of their muck and their mire, well, they wouldn’t truly be old friends, would they?

That’s why I suppose it’s easy to pick up where you left off with old friends. Pretense isn’t necessary; they know enough about your pain, and they high-fived you with your joy. They accept both in you, for that is who you are. And you have done the same for them. 

And you would do it again, without hesitating.

If there hadn’t been that give and take over the long haul, if each of you hadn’t accepted the true you in each other through good and bad, they wouldn’t be old friends; they would be former friends or once-upon-a-time acquaintances.

But the old friends, the crème de la crème — these are the ones you hang onto, the ones you call, maybe not every day or even every week, but from time to time, the ones you search out — for in seeing them, you hear the songs that once moved you, read words that once encouraged you, feel the pain that came to strengthen you.

The 17th century poet/preacher was right.

In an old friend, you see a reflection of yourself.

Contact Dr. David Whitlock at drdavid@davidwhitlock.org or visit his website at davidwhitlock.org.