As I was talking with a friend the other day about old acquaintances, I couldn’t help but think about how friends in our lives “die” all the time. Of course they don’t necessarily physically die, but their departure from our lives might as well be considered a type of death. Whether it’s friends from high school, college, old jobs or other places, we just seem to lose touch after a while. This might be a gradual death with constant calls and visits turning into a few trickling emails, but sooner or later the process becomes complete, and you realize that it’s been eleven months since you’ve heard from or talked to your friend. The initial break is always the hardest time, but the pangs of separation soon ease. That’s when the death becomes complete.
These trains of thought made me think about the friend that I most miss out of the “friendship death” process. It made me a bit ashamed to think of how many friendships I have let fall by the wayside. I thought about my best friend from middle school and how we burned up the roads on our bikes for hours everyday. I thought about my best friend from high school who I had to leave when my family moved and how I never let him really know how painful that really was. I thought about the different people who I became so close to during my summer jobs at camps and churches and about how life has simply made us all so busy that it is difficult to keep up with each other. Then I realized that the person that I perhaps wish I still knew was the oldest of all my friends.
My friendship with this person began in second grade and continued through seventh grade when my family moved to another town. He was the first person I consciously remember hanging out with at school. He was the first person who invited me into his family, and he was the first friend that was also invited into my family. We played together, we were creative together, we did all the things that kids do at that age.
Amazingly, it never occurred to us that much of society might look down on us because he was black and I was white. It never hit us that the other kids in our class only hung out with kids of their own ethnicity, and their parents didn’t always approve of friendships with kids of another color. It never even entered our minds. We were children.
We both shared a great childhood together, learning about each other’s families and traditions, never questioning as to whether this was a “black” thing or a “white” thing. For us, this was simply a family thing. We ate at each other’s tables; we shared each other’s houses. In elementary school, we entered the talent contest as a rap duo. Sometimes I still watch the video tape of that event and laugh at the humor of childhood when we were still too young to be scared, too young to “know any better.”
Looking back now, I can see that the death of our friendship began like any “friendship death” would. We grew up, found new interests and moved into other directions, but I also can’t help but notice today how the cards were always stacked against us. As much as we pride ourselves today on being an equal opportunity society, we can’t kid ourselves and think that we really give equal opportunities to everyone. I think about my own friendship circle—the people who I have over for dinner, the people who were in my wedding—and they are all very white. Sure I’ve had a few friends of other ethnicities and nationalities, but for the most part, my closest friends remain the people that look the most like me. I can see how the forces of our society have moved my friend and I in these directions. We are told in all aspects of our lives, “You are safest with those who look like you.”
And so tonight as I write this, I lament the death of my friend. It is not a physical death, although I would not even know if it actually was because I have ceased to have contact with him. It was not a deliberate action, but one that I can now see was dictated to us by the world we live in. I don’t miss this friend’s company, humor or anything else, because in truth, I know very little about him now. What I miss is the opportunity that I had, an opportunity to be a part of a family that I have little chance to be in now. My life seems bland in comparison to what it could have been with that friend.
Friendships will live and die; this is the nature of them. We are meant to grow and change and to do so with different people at different times; however, we shouldn’t let a sometimes unjust world tell us which people this growing and changing should be occurring with. Ethnicity, gender, economic status—these are terms that simply seek to divide. Instead, let us take the time and make the effort to keep in contact with valuable friends, and let us learn a new language, a language where “friend” is governed simply by love.
[Lane Davis dabbles in religion, philosophy, music and literature to name a few. He and his wife live in Montgomery, Ala.]
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