When the pandemic came abruptly into our lives this past February, It was not a very difficult process for me to self quarantine. I was used to living alone, and although I hadn’t been living in that state for the ten years leading up to the end of January when my mother, whom I had taken care of for ten years, passed away, I quickly reverted back to my solitary ways.
I was alone in this big house, free from all the responsibilities of caregiving. No more part-time aides coming and going all during he day. I didn’t have much time to think of anything else but caregiving. It was all-consuming. And then it was all gone in a day. The life I had known for years.
As the weeks passed and the strange new unknown of the pandemic began to slowly burn a hole my consciousness, the present became a reality I knew I couldn’t escape from. Because of risk factors and a history of depression, I withdrew into myself, while at the same time reaching out online more than ever. As often happens when you get older, the past seems to loom larger than ever in your life. I know it has in my life.
I started thinking of reaching out to my long ago friends, one of whom I had not been in touch with for almost 40 years, and the other, 30 years. I finally got up the nerve to email R— because I knew where he worked. He immediately emailed back. It was like , “Where have you been? We’ve been trying to get in touch with you, but didn’t know how?“
What a rush of happiness I felt. This was a person who was about my age and who I greatly admired for his work with the developmentally disabled. In fact, my first job after college was at that same organization, and he was my boss. We became good friends and remained so after I left that place of employment. Through him I was able to get in touch with another friend who also worked there, who actually got me the job. After sending him and his wife a letter a few months ago, I got the nicest and most welcome email back and was able to catch up with their lives. It was amazing.
I’ve know them both since 1973, which is a long time. The third friend and his wife I’ve known since 1974, and they became the best friends I’d ever had. We would spend hours talking late into the night. We seemed to have so much in common and we’re truly kindred spirits.
That continued for about ten years, but they experienced some dramatic changes in beliefs, politics and social consciousness that were very different from my core philosophy and beliefs which hadn’t changed over the years. I kept up with them sporadically over the next couple of decades, but now that I’m retired, and they are too, I began contacting them more frequently, with mixed results. In the back of my mind, I was in denial about how drastically they had changed, always harking back to the glory days of our friendship and all the good memories. I managed over the years to shut out the painful parts and the lack of anything meaningful in common anymore except those memories.
As for my other two oldest friends, I have tried valiantly to keep email correspondences going but that has faded after an initial burst of happy renewal of old times and the exchange of photos we took long ago. I sent them some of my writing about those memorable times In the Seventies when they were my first real friends. The communication sadly is drying up. They’re “very busy.” How often have I heard that. All three friends from long ago have been happily married for 40 or more years m, and two of them have grandchildren. They do have busy lives, but regardless, I never accept that as an excuse for not keeping up with friends. I’m very loyal once I start corresponding with someone, especially if they are, or were close friends.
Very unfortunately, several months ago one of those friends and I had a very unpleasant political disagreement. In these bizarre times with such a corrupt president who is against everything I stand for, it became obvious that a seismic shift had occurred. I could no longer be in denial about what they stood for.
I talked to my sister and confidant about all this and she wisely reminded me that, as he novelist Thomas Wolfe proclaimed in the title of one of his great works, “You can’t go home again.”
She emailed me these words: “I always think about Thomas Wolf’s title “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Sometimes we need to treasure past friendships (and experiences) for the meaning and beauty they had at the time. Revisiting them or trying to recreate them years later just doesn’t always work out. There’s nothing wrong with that, [but] everything in it’s own time..”
My reply was as follows: “Yes, but sadly, what I’m trying to say is that it’s my folly to persist in thinking things can be the way they once were. A the same time, I don’t want my utter contempt for Trump and Republicans to ruin what’s left of the friendship. From my perspective it’s always been rather tenuous [in recent years], whether they also thought that or not. I also think my harsh condemnation of Trump and Republicans may have burned some crucial bridges…”. Yes, the damage has been done, or maybe I just see things more clearly now.
My visceral feelings in this time of political turmoil leave hardly the tiniest patch of ground for compromise or reconciliation. This is one more little chapter in the story of how our entire country has become so polarized and viewpoints so divisive. It’s become black and white, sadly.
That’s why I fear so much for the country, and that politics and religion can destroy friendships.
As for my other two friends, I did my best to reach out to them, but the sad truth is, again, you can’t base a renewed friendship solely on memories of the past.
I’ve always remembered this sad but beautiful poem by Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.