RASHMI OBEROI | 6 FEBRUARY, 2020
That Friendship ‘Bench’mark
The past fortnight has been a time of meeting old friends and rekindling ties that were formed decades ago. Maintaining friendships are of great importance to me and I do believe that affection, laughter, candour — these are all qualities of durable relationships.
But there’s something more that makes these lifelong friendships so gratifying and essential. We don’t have to recapitulate our histories to one another because we’ve been together every step of the way. In Paul Simon’s aching, melancholy song he sings: “Old friends sat on their park bench like bookends.”
Longstanding friendships let us get together without make-up on our faces. Old friends allow us — indeed, expect us — to look and speak without pretence. And that freedom, I’m discovering, is nothing to sing mournfully about. It’s one of the few gifts of aging. In conversations with old friends, none of us has to explain how we got here.
Old friendships are earned with investing time and have stood the test of time too. They are also the most trustworthy. Therefore, I consider myself lucky to have been blessed to have friends, who have stuck on through the thick and thin of our lives with pledges never to break the relation, even if geographical distance or time posed as a hindrance.
A long lasting friendship is not a matter of a day or so. Constant understanding, trust and belief finally enhance the relationship further and make it stronger. Thus in order for a long lasting friendship, equal efforts is needed from either side to make it work.
Some of my childhood friendships have ended into long lasting friendship as they are the result of immense mutual understanding and undeterred trust. Very few are indeed lucky enough to have such a long lasting friendship. These are the friends who have been with each other through thick and thin, these are the friends who have seen each other fail and then rise again, and who have seen each other laugh and cry and yet stood by each other through it all. This kind of friendship is one of a kind that gracefully accepts each other’s nuances and quirks.
The bond that old friends share is just out of this world. A certain charm revolves around the friendship shared by a group of old friends. No hindrances can actually deter this kind of friendship. I have witnessed the sparkle in all our eyes when we are in the company of some old friends.
Childhood friendship is usually formed, when young kids get to know their immediate classmates and neighbours. Although they fight and cry at the very first stage but with the passage of time, strong understanding makes the friendship bloom. Though it is inevitable once they grow up, they form their individuated opinions, temperaments and attitudes and yet old friends cling onto each other and love respecting each other’s feelings and sentiments.
It is rare to be blessed with friends who have walked by your side through all your travails. And if anyone is blessed with such a priceless friendship, it should be preserved. Often, life is compared to a train journey - where you come across many people, enjoy the moment to the fullest and then bid adieu to your co-passengers. Similarly many friends in your life just come and then go but few actually stay back for the entire lifetime. Thus those that maintain their friendships right from their school days until their old age is worth saluting.
There’s a sense of security that comes with old friends. They finish our sentences, know our quirks and become an extension of our families. Most importantly they know our faults and love us anyway. Yet it can be hugely helpful and very redemptive to catch up with these people, with a one-on-one dinner, a walk in the woods or the exchange of messages/emails.
These friends function as conduits to earlier versions of ourselves that are inaccessible day-to-day but that contain hugely important insights. In the company of the old friend, we take stock of the journey we have travelled. We get to see how we have evolved, what was once painful, what mattered or what we have wholly forgotten we deeply enjoyed. The old friend is a guardian of memories on which we might otherwise have a damagingly tenuous hold.
We need old friends because of a crucial complexity in human nature. We pass through stages of development and as we do so, discard previous concerns and develop a lack of empathy around past perspectives. Yet the old friend reconnects us with a particular atmosphere and, like a novelist, makes us at home with a character – ourselves – who might otherwise have seemed impossibly alien to us. The old friend has crucial news to impart.
We experience life from a succession of very different vantage points over the decades, but tend – understandably – to be preoccupied only with the present vista, forgetting the particular, incomplete but still crucial wisdom contained in earlier phases. Every age possesses a superior kind of knowledge in some area or other – which it then, usually, forgets to hand on to succeeding selves.
Old friends are key activators of fascinating and valuable parts of the self that we need, but are always at risk of forgetting we need, in the blinkered present.
It's an insane world but in it there is one sanity, the loyalty of old friends.