Imagine an old log cabin in the middle of the woods, standing all alone. It’s wintertime, and the cabin is covered in snow. Now, imagine opening the door, stepping out of the cold and wet snow, and seeing a blazing fireplace, all warm and aglow. Can you feel the warmth of that fire as it envelopes your body?
That’s what it feels like to connect with an old friend. But not just any old friend, someone who was special in your childhood. Someone who filled your childhood with fun memories. Now imagine that you lost touch and haven’t heard from that person for over 40 years. And then out of the clear blue sky, that person reappears in your life. Totally unexpected. It warms your soul just like that fireplace in the cold cabin.
I have never been one to hold onto the past. I don’t like to attend reunions. I never went out of my way to keep in touch with old friends. My eyes have always been firmly pointed in front of me. It’s fun to run into old friends at the mall, or see them at a party. But I just like to let the past go, and be just that…the past.
I moved away from my hometown in 1977. I never contacted anyone to give them my forwarding address. My parents stayed in our old home, so anyone who wanted to contact me, could have found me through them. But, as I did, we all went our own way to find our place in the world. We all wanted to be someone new. Someone we weren’t in school.
Ship ahead to the early 2000s’. The world enters the digital age. Social networks pop up, and give us the chance to electronically connect with each other. Now there was no reason to lose touch with people. It was as easy as turning on your computer. Facebook became the rage. I reluctantly signed up for it when a friend encouraged me to. It was 2009. I was unemployed, a victim of the Great Recession. She told me she could introduce me to someone who might be able to find me a job. That introduction was through Facebook. I never heard of such a thing. So I signed up.
Within a few weeks, the most amazing thing happened. I started to get Friend requests from people I hadn’t seen in since high school, or even before. Some of them I remembered. Some I had to look up in my old yearbook I kept. Funny how, in one sense I wanted to let go of my past. But on the other hand, I held onto it through my old yearbook. I must have moved 15 or more times, but I always kept that yearbook.
Their faces changed, and some their names. I would look at their picture in the yearbook, and compare it with their current picture on Facebook. I didn’t do it in a malicious way, to see who gained weight, or lost their hair. Goodness knows I certainly am not the guy I was 40+ years ago. I wanted to see how time had changed them, and me.
It seemed that everyone I reconnected with lived a good life while we were apart. We all became that “New Person” we set out to become when we set upon our journey. But now, in our….I hate to say it this way, but can’t find any other words…our Senior Years, there became this desire and curiosity to reconnect with them, and through it, ourselves and our childhoods. It’s no great secret that the Boomers are closer to the end than the beginning. It’s a strange feeling to wake up one day and realize that. And once you do realize and accept that, your entire outlook on life changes. Those memories, and the feelings that come with them become important.
I’m an old dad. I didn’t have kids until I was 43 years old. Most of my friends my age are empty nesters. But I have two 18 year olds at home. Plus I work in the tech industry, so I am on top of the latest products and services brought to us by the digital age, through my work and my kids. I set my kids up with a cell phone and email address when they were 8 years old. I watched them as they signed up for the latest social network, and connected with their friends.
10 years later, they still keep in touch with friends who have long since moved away. They get instant updates on their activities and pictures. It made me realize something important.
The boomers are really the first generation to be able to reconnect with old friends so easily and extensively, through the new social networks. And, we are the last generation to lose touch. Today, if someone from the digital generation wants to get lost, they have to really want to. It’s easier to stay in touch than to get lost, the total opposite from all the generations before them. For better or worse, that is the way it is.
It’s been fun finding these old friends. In some cases, I never knew I meant anything to them when we were young. I wish I appreciated them then as much as I do now. Though I probably will never see most of them again, I get to be an invited voyeur in their lives, and them in mine. I enjoy seeing snippets of their lives through their posts. Pictures of their families, and the things that are on their minds.
And when I get a Friend request from one of them, it warms my soul, like that fireplace in that old cabin. My life today is fulfilled. I have a wonderful family and circle of friends. But in some ways, we are all like that cold, secluded cabin in the woods. And when a fire is lit inside us by connecting to an old friend, it warms us deep in our souls. For a moment, I am back to a more innocent time in my life, when I had more time in front of me than behind.
In the song “Teach Your Children”, Graham Nash sings the line “because the past is just a goodbye”. It is. As each moment passes in our lives, we say goodbye to that memory. That moment could be something as mundane as brushing our teeth, or as meaningful as watching our child get married. But each moment has the potential to have a special meaning in our lives. What we do with each minute and how it lives in our memory is up to us. It is our job to appreciate each moment, so someday when we look back, we get that warm feeling from it, like that fire in the cold cabin.