I have become delightfully aware of something that I never expected about getting older. Simply put, it’s not the heirlooms that are things, but the heirlooms that are people. This concept was driven home to me by three conversations that happened fairly close together recently.
Item No. 1: We were at a party when my fraternity brother Josh launched into the story of how, in my dual roles as Kappa Sigma rush co-chair and Stanford Daily movie reviewer, I had wangled admission for members and pledges alike into the opening night of Star Wars at the Century 21 theatre in San Jose. It was May 25, 1977.
One never tires, of course, of hearing anecdotes in which he’s the star, but it dawned on me that it took place more than forty years ago. That story is older than my father was when I was born.
Item No. 2: I was having lunch with my friend Rich at the Olive Garden. We were bantering, as we tend to, and the waitress – who was probably young enough to be our daughter (or granddaughter, if we’d really been serious about it) – said, “It sounds like you guys have known each other a really long time.”
I looked at Rich and Rich looked at me. We were both doing math in our head and realized that we had first met in Boy Scouts fifty years before.
Item No. 3: Brian and I grew up next to each other; except for the garages, our houses had identical floor plans. Our fathers were both small businessmen. Our mothers both worked. Off and on, we went to the same schools and lived in the same towns, seeing each other occasionally, like Dickens characters. Now, sixty years later, we see each other more regularly.
We were having dinner with our spouses at a German restaurant. “I’m not sure I understand this menu at all,” frowned Brian. “But Brian,” I whispered across the table, remembering what he’d told me once about his mother’s heritage, “You’re half German.” His wife looked at me and said, “You’re one of the few people that knows that.”
Getting older, I’ve quickly realized, is not all bad. It’s an opportunity to look back on a tapestry woven over time, with friends who thread in and out along the way. And it’s not just a tapestry of the good times – there are memories of relationships gone awry, of job decisions gone wrong, of health scares and nightmares – the whole gamut of life over multiple decades. We don’t talk about those bad times, but we hold the memory and sympathy in our hearts – carefully and tenderly.
And sometimes, because we’ve known each other long enough, and enough time has gone by, we can take out the bad times and giggle at them. One of my fondest memories of my friend Andrew revolved our raucous laughter on an island vacation as I recounted the story of the time my wife had to drive me to the emergency room. She was driving so fast, I thought I was going to die even before they could have a chance to treat me. It wasn’t funny when it was happening, but it was sure hilarious in Hawaii.
I consider myself so lucky to be surrounded by so many longtime, long-term friends, the ones who remember the best and worst about me and still trudge forward. More than anything else, I treasure my heirloom friendships.