Forty years. Gone in a moment’s time.
The door of the music store opened with a jangle of bells, the ones hanging from the knob, and I looked up from printing orders to see who it was. The face looking back at me smiled broadly and instantly the years disappeared.
No, it hasn’t been forty years since I saw the face, but it was forty years ago that I began a new job with the man as my supervisor. I would learn more in that single fleeting year than in many long ones that came after it.
His lovely wife was at his side on this day and we stood and talked as old friends will. The present time flew by, but our conversation carried us back several decades as we told old stories and laughed about events nearly forgotten in the tumultuous progression of years since.
It was sheer pleasure.
As we spoke, he remembered how long we have actually known each other and our conversation went back, far beyond the forty years, to the first time he laid eyes on me.
The young family had walked into the old brick church—a dark-haired man and his red-headed wife, both about thirty years old. Trying unsuccessfully to be unobtrusive, four urchins—well, three noisy boys and their silent, shy sister—trailed their parents. Oh. There was one more, a baby—a big baby—held in the arms of the red-headed lady.
Yep. I was the baby. This man, the one who would seventeen years later teach me a number of life skills, has known me since I was that young.
And still, he likes me enough to stop by on his nearly 1,500 mile trip and spend an hour or two just reminiscing and catching up. Oh, the stories he could tell if he wanted to. Perhaps he has forgotten them. Let’s hope so.
As we spoke, I realized how our lives have been tied together. As a preschooler, I remember his father used to wave broadly at us each day as he passed our trailer house in his Tom’s Peanuts truck on the way to restock vending machines at the country club. Once in awhile, he would toss out a package or two of peanuts to us, standing barefoot at the edge of the road, and we’d marvel at how the wealthy man could be so generous. Later, father and mother both would be my Sunday-school teachers, and his aunt would play the piano while his uncle waved his arms, leading us in singing the old hymns.
In a thousand ways, it seems we grew up together, even though he is twelve years older than I. We have certainly grown old together, although the miles have gotten in the way a bit.
Old friends are the best.
But, I wonder . . .
My old friends and I had begun to say our goodbyes, when the door of the music store opened again, the bells jangling as they did before. Two men wandered in, faces smiling broadly.
They are friends I have met in my adult life. It has only been in recent years that I would even call them friends, knowing them before that merely as acquaintances. But, friends they are.
I introduced them, my old friends and new. For a moment, I felt the strange feeling of witnessing two worlds colliding. A meeting of folks with one thing in common: me. Then my old friend began telling my new friends a story and we were all just friends, neither new nor old.
I went that night and sank down into a comfortable chair at the local coffee-shop. With coffee cup in hand I would listen to one of my new friends play his guitar and sing a few songs.
It was sheer pleasure.
I sat listening, but also pondering the mystery of friendship. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the music, but I knew my friend would take care of his part. He’s an old pro. I was too overwhelmed just then with the realization of what it means for a man to have friends, both old and new.
Did I say friendship was a mystery? So it is, but more than that, it is a gift. And, not just any gift, like a tie on Father’s Day, or even a new toy on Christmas.
Friendship is one of the greatest gifts entrusted to us by a loving Father who gives only good gifts. I wonder that we don’t treasure it more. I lament that we don’t care for it better, allowing it to lie untended for years while the weeds of neglect take it over.
The Creator thought it important enough that He cultivated an intimate friendship with man in the garden, walking with him in the cool of the day. His Son selected twelve who would spend their years with him, walking and eating, and learning from Him. Others, He would grow close to as well—Mary, Martha, along with their brother Lazarus.
The red-headed lady who carried me into that church fifty-seven years ago taught me the principle, her words coming in the form of a platitude (that doesn’t make it any less relevant).
If you want to have friends, you have to be a friend.
I’m not all that good a friend. I am thankful for folks who have overlooked that and have been a friend to me anyway. I’m trying to do better.
Old friends. New friends.
They’re basically the same, with new friends eventually becoming old friends. I’m not sure when the transition is made, but I sat with people the other evening who I distinctly remember being new friends not all that long ago (if you can call nearly forty years not all that long). Definitely old friends now.
You know, I don’t really have anything I want to teach tonight.
I just needed to remind myself that sometimes a gift is given when we least expect it. I need to remember to be grateful to the Giver and to show my gratitude in the way I care for His gifts.
New becomes old, gaining value as it ages. More like a fine musical instrument, I think, than the drink with which it is usually compared. The wine is consumed and gone so soon, but a fine guitar or violin makes sweeter music the longer and more often it is played.
Care for them well, but utilize them often.
Sweet music will come, probably just like the dulcet tones I heard that night in my comfortable chair at the coffee shop.
Or, perhaps more like the jangling of the bells as the door opens to welcome another one in.
When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down:
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maim’d among:
God grant you find one face there
You loved when all was young.
(from The Old, Old Song ~ Charles Kingsley ~ English cleric/poet ~ 1819-1875)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 ~ ESV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.