Maintaining Friendships
By Mark Bohm / March 2012

I know this great old guy, a part of the family, who's now pushing 90. Not too long ago, he had a health scare of the kind that people approaching their tenth decade tend to have.

When he recovered well enough to get out again, we talked for awhile about how he felt. During the conversation, I asked him if he is frightened of death. I found his response eye-opening. He said emphatically, "No way! I'm so ready."

I construed his answer in the uplifting way I believe he meant it to be taken. That is to say, he had done what he wanted to do here, he was pleased with his use of time, and he had reached, what appeared to me, a state of serene contentment. He didn't speak of regrets, and I figured if any existed, they were few and too immaterial to fret over.

I wondered how many people reach that place, and, for those who don't, why not? I found some works discussing the most prevalent regrets among older men and others. Some of the laments were predictable enough and may be the subject of a future column.
But one matter of remorse, which I found in multiple pieces, dealt with an issue I hadn't thought much about -- the failure to keep in touch with old friends. Apparently, the error of losing contact with old buddies is something that can come back as a significant source of distress in later years.

I thought about my own friends from the past, whose whereabouts and endeavors were now utter unknowns to me. It caused the onset of a couple of my own pangs of regret. The one that hurt most concerned a close college friend, a brilliant kid who could cogently discuss everything from Einstein's theories to early grunge rock, one of my closest confidants for the better part of my last two years of school. He decided to backpack through India after graduation.

By then, we had already lost contact to a considerable degree, with me having moved away to study law in another state. But, before his trip, we made a plan to stay in touch through letters. Months later, I received a postcard from India. In the brief note, he relayed that he was having a great time, exploring ancient temples and immersing himself in the culture. He left the address of some place I took to be a type of Indian post office, and advised that, if I sent a letter to this place by a certain time, it would likely be waiting for him upon his intended arrival there.

I very much meant to send that letter. I even started it one night by hand. But then I got lost in the day-to-day stuff that bogs us down, the work and hassles and errands and deadlines. I forgot about India and never finished the letter.

Some time later, it dawned on me that there probably was a day when my friend made it to the postal station on the other side of the world, and was very disappointed to find that nothing from me was waiting for him. I truly hoped that other friends of his were less negligent, and had provided him, on that day, with some heartening material.

While I'm no wizard on Facebook or other forms of social media, I've used those tools in an attempt to find my old friend. So far, I simply cannot. He had more than a small streak of rebel in him, so it wouldn't surprise me if he has shunned the mess of popular new technologies designed to keep us all at each other's immediate beck and call. After all, a guy whose post-graduate fun involved backpacking for an extended period alone through India is a guy who just might not be that easy to find.

This proves you don't have to be very old to regret having lost touch with someone who was a real pal. I'll keep looking for him. And, as for my other comrades from earlier days, those folks with whom I haven't lost track, I'll try hard not to make the same mistake.

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