My daughter hopped into the back seat of the car, grinning from ear to ear. “Did you have a good time?” I asked. “Yes, Mom, I did.” As we pulled out of the driveway, she craned her neck backward and watched her friend’s house grow smaller and smaller in the distance.
He was once the boy next door, the steadfast friend with whom she had spent hours swinging from trees, putting on backyard plays and spying on grown-ups. But we now lived seven hours away.
Her head turned back around toward me. “You know, Mom, when I went in, he didn’t even say ‘Hi.’ He just said, ‘I want to show you this cool thing I made,’ and it was just like it used to be.”
It was one of those rare moments when I knew exactly what my 10-year-old was talking about. I said, “Yes, some friendships -- the really good ones -- are like that.”
They say the only constant in life is change. As a United Methodist minister who has been through five appointment cycles, I have become all too accustomed to the rhythm of farewell receptions, moving trucks and bright name tags. I know how unsettling it is to meet people for the first time, knowing they have already created an impression of you from the blurb in the church newsletter.
There are the predictable coping techniques. You hang your diplomas, more to remind you of where you have been than to tell others of what you have accomplished. You unpack your kitchen, eager to make that first big family meal that tastes and smells like home. You set your radio dial, or nowadays the Internet station, to play that song that takes you back to your first middle school dance.
All little things aimed at re-creating the big story that is your life.
After this past move, however, it struck me that what assures you most of your identity is not things but people. Friends are the living connections between your memories and your dreams. A true friend, as my daughter discovered, does not require niceties or bio briefs but has that rare and beautiful ability to collapse time, allowing you to pick up at that same moment where you left off.
In Luke 1, we encounter a young Mary cradling, somewhere deep in her womb, the Savior of us all. It had to be a reality too great, too awesome and too overwhelming for her alone to bear, and the Scriptures tell us she went directly to Elizabeth. In the verses that follow, we glimpse Elizabeth as not just Mary’s cousin but her sage, loving friend whose pregnant belly alone was sufficient to reassure Mary of the promise inside her.
Now there are the Elizabeths, the women and men who have gone farther down the path you are about to tread. But there are all sorts of other friendships, too. Childhood playmates with whom you have nothing in common now but to whom you are bound by the shared memories of eccentric schoolteachers or slumber-party pranks. Or that person who shares with you an uncanny connection, that keen ability to know you are hurting before a single crease on your face turns downward.
In the excitement and flurry of activity around any transition, there is the temptation to look forward, not back. To seek new faces, not old. To tell your stories in a way that sounds really good but is not necessarily the way things really happened.
Old friendships matter. They require time. They demand attention. They sometimes hurt as much as they help. But they keep you honest with who you are and who you want to be. They are those steady, familiar voices that call you to be your best and challenge you when you are your worst.
As I saw my daughter’s face in the rearview mirror, glowing with happy exhaustion, a parade of other faces passed before my mind’s eye: funny, kind, talented, funky friends, many lost between the cracks of time, left somewhere behind by the moving truck. I’ve long known the importance of keeping a true friend, but my daughter has taught me the importance of keeping up a true friendship.