We were in our twenties then, young parents of our first child. We lived in an apartment complex outside Washington, D.C., where many residents were military families or federal employees. My wife became friends with another young military wife with a child about the age our daughter. The kids had play dates, and we socialized a bit with the family.
The day came when our friends were moving away. When my wife was saying goodbye and how much we'd miss them, she asked for our friends' new address. Her friend made it clear that she saw no point in keeping in touch. We would not be seeing them again, so we may as well make a clean break of it. My wife was startled and a little hurt by the attitude,
Forty years later, we still remember that episode of our lives, but I recall it now with a bit more empathy for the young mother who saw no need in prolonging a friendship that was doomed by separation. In those 40 years, I've met and made friends with scores of people, probably hundreds, and though I felt close to many of them, we have separated and have not spoken in years, decades in some cases. In many cases, I recall a face or a comment but cannot recall the name that goes with the face. In a few cases, I have had to confess that I just couldn't recall someone who says he knew me or worked for me. Memory fades.
Not every friendship can be like the one forged and tempered by my father-in-law and his friend he called "Z." Their friendship began when they were preschoolers and lasted more than 80 years. Over those years, one man fought around the world in World War II while the other, ineligible for service because of a disability, took a stateside defense job. Both graduated college, pursued successful careers, raised families, were widowed and remarried. They lived more than 200 miles apart but got together as often as the could. At any given moment, one might telephone the other, and their friendship would brighten as if it never had dimmed.
Such friendships are the exception, not the rule. I have kept up with a handful of people I've known over the decades and have regretted not keeping up with others who drifted away and died too early. There are long gaps in all these friendships and sad lapses with regrets over failures to make the effort to nourish relationships that had burned brightly for a while but eventually flickered and went cold.
A favorite uncle, long deceased now, told me when I was a young father, "All we've really got in this old world is family." Though friends move away or develop new interests, family ties are forever. "Blood is thicker than water," my mother would say. Yet even these relationships need nourishing with letters, visits and phone calls. One of my great regrets is the number of funerals I've missed because the funeral was too far away or I was too busy or I had a conflict on my calendar.
A few years ago my wife insisted that we attend the wedding of the son of her first cousin, whom she had not seen in years. The trip would involve an airplane flight and a couple of nights in a hotel. When I cast doubt on the necessity of our being there, she made it clear, "this is family." She was right.
We cannot keep every tie that once bound us to others knotted, but we can choose to keep some ties as close as possible for as long as possible.