Friday, November 30, 2018

The True Value of Old Friends

No one has any idea how difficult it is to grow old. It is not until you have finally turned the corner into truly being old that you begin to realize that it is going to be a far more difficult challenge then you expected. I am not old-old yet but I have a firm foreshadowing of the last stretch of life. It is going to be the steepest climb of all. If you are lucky, you have family, children, and old friends that are going to help you see it through.

Now that I have retired and have spent some months just simply "being", I have had time to reconnect with old friends. I am making the rounds to reconnect with people I have known for 20 or 30 years.

The first visit I made was to the home of my dear friend Jeanie. She was my Reiki teacher in 1994, and we have been friends since. She is in her ninth decade and is just as lovely, smart, and funny as she was on the first day I met her! She is the coolest "old lady" I know, and I absolutely mean no disrespect by that term. Indeed, it is one of honor, something afforded an Elder, a wise woman. She and her late husband Bob were the most liberal, enlightened "old people" I had ever met. Most older people I knew were closed minded, grumpy, full of concrete ideas, and energy bounced off of them. A human being with a liberal mind coupled with the humor and wisdom of life experience is a work of art. I fell in immediate love with Jeanie and Bob. I believe Jeanie has lived most of her life with an open heart. The person she is now is the result of living a loving, generous life, and what a truly wonderful resulting human being. Though we have never spent a lot of time together, the shared times sustain me. I am grateful for her warm, shining humor, and her good mind.

Far back in the day - after I had dropped out of college, had a child and went through a divorce - I somehow bumped into my friend Sharon. We were not actually friends then as we had little opportunity to get to know one another. My first memory of her is a young, dark-haired hippie girl authoritatively reciting Native American history. We were standing somewhere on concrete steps in bright summer sunlight. That is all there is left of that memory. Later, we were in a group that attended a Fleetwood Mac concert. The memories of her end after the concert. Some years later, a dark haired woman was hired into my department. We hit it off right away. For a week or longer I kept saying "You sure look familiar to me. Don't I know you from somewhere?" She had no memory of me. We compared notes of our former home town, and notes on any mutual acquaintances we knew in Topeka. One day she mentioned someone from the old days that triggered the spark in my memory banks! She remembered the Fleetwood Mac concert and her close friends, but I was just "some other person" who also attended. (This is the impression I make on people!)

For the next 17 years we spent every break and almost every lunch together at work. Interestingly, Sharon is likely the most far right political friend I have, and I am likely her most far left friend. We have steered away from any serious political discussion or debate for obvious reasons, but she does allow me to dis' Rush Limbaugh about once every five years. (You just have to make allowances for friends.) Every other topic is on the table and we have likely discussed all of them at one time or another. It is one of the best things in life to have an old friend who has known you almost forever. We only see one another about once a year now, but the conversation picks up where we last left off. Surely our conversations have been occurring in many past lives and will carry on in some future iteration after we have both left this old earth. (Everyone smoked a lot of pot at concerts back in the day, so she is forgiven for not remembering me at Fleetwood Mac.)

I met my good friend Ken in the summer of 1993. I had returned from a personal pilgrimage to Wounded Knee, South Dakota and to the Sand Creek Massacre Site in Southeastern Colorado. I visited those places to leave tobacco and prayers for the people who were mercilessly murdered by the ignorance and racism of my ancestors. In both instances, the Native Americans were under the white flag of surrender. It did not stop the US Military from treacherously and brutally gunning down unarmed elders, men, women and children. I had to go to those places to heal something in my own spirit.

When I returned from that trip, I rode my Harley up to see the Potawatomi elder, Mr. Leonard McKinney. When I crossed onto the rez, a hawk flew right over me, casting a large shadow on me and my motorcycle. Amazingly enough, when I left the rez by another route, the same thing happened - a hawk coming out of the north flew right over me casting a shadow on me and the machine. That marked the beginning of true magic coming into my life, which included meeting my friend Ken. I met him that fall when I attended Lodge at his house, the place I now call the 54th Street Rez. That also became the title of one his original Native American flute songs found on his C.D. Coyotes in the Orchard. (Buy Ken's CD here!)

It took awhile for Ken and I to become friends. Once we each decided the other was a trustworthy human being and worthy, we became good friends. He is a solid, bedrock friend. I have been in Lodge many times with Ken and know that he is impeccable when it comes to the things that matter. He is an uncompromising old Vietnam Vet. He is an artist, making beautiful Native American Flutes and drums. He is a musician who has played his flutes all over the world. Perhaps the most prestigious event was when he played his flute with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for three performances.

My kids know Ken well and he knows them. Ken is one of the few persons on the entire planet who understands and sincerely appreciates my poetry. He once told me, "I am right there with you!" I think we have known one another from past lives as well. I certainly expect him to appear in future lives. For the time being we meet for lunch a couple of times a year, and talk on the phone occasionally. I know if I needed anything at all, I could call him and he would do everything in his power to help me. I trust him and I hope we have many more years together, becoming the oldest versions of ourselves - our young Harley-riding, hard-partying, wild versions that settled down into serious spiritual contemplation and wisdom. Perhaps we will be the oldest old people at a pow wow some day and still laughing about things the youngsters have no clue about. A bedrock friend is the best thing there is.

Ken and I ate Chinese yesterday, but most of the time when we meet for lunch, it is to eat steak. Both of us are carnivores, but Ken married a beautiful vegetarian woman, so he has to have a fix of good steak once in awhile. I am his accomplice for devouring bloody red meat! This is done with full disclosure to his wife, as far as I know. The restaurant yesterday was decorated to the n'th degree for Christmas, with Buddha statues amid the array. There was an enormous Santa in the lobby, so large I did not notice it at first. When we saw it on the way out, Ken said, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is a new President." Come on, Santa! Ken has been good all year! I can vouch for him!

This is a short list of friends because there are so many more - so many that each deserves a chapter in the book I am never going to write. Bev, one of the smartest women I have ever known, has spent her adult life helping people find healing for their broken and damaged spirits. Sometimes life asks a lot of such people. I do not know how she gets through the tragedies she and her family have experienced. Her warrior spirit simply carries on with good grace and faith in the ultimate nature of our human lives.

My family friends, the Hastings, are a clan of opinionated, outspoken, hard working, very talented, cussing, loving people. I have known them for so long they that they are already into their fourth generation! They have always been there for me and my kids. I will never be able to repay all of their many, many kindnesses. I love them all dearly and their good humor, no matter what horrible thing happens, is the most worthy of gifts. Life is damned hard, downright impossible and tragic at times, but you would never know it when you are with them.

There are my friends from high school whom I have known the longest and loved the most.

There are people from work, including Mr. Hamm, a pseudonym because I do not believe he would welcome being identified in my silly little blog. He is certainly a keeper friend because he is one of those people who finds some things too funny to be contained in normal laughter. We have often laughed until our sides ached and we were crying. Only a few people are this way. We are rare, like white rhinos or albino crows. When we discover one another in the population at large, we cling together - often in painful laughter! He had my back at work and was the only reason I was able to go the distance those last few years. He is a good man. It is the highest compliment I can give to a human being with the Y chromosome.

I remember my dear Grandmother in her last years. She was sharp as a tack up until the final blow dealt by a massive stroke. Even then her good mind was coming back. She loved to play cards with a circle of women she had known forever. They grew old together. They were there for each other all their long lives as they survived whatever life brought them, when they lost children, as they lost their husbands one by one, as they survived the vagaries of life. She outlived most of her friends and spent the last years with no one to play cards with, no one left who knew her long history, no one left who knew who she had been, or how she got to be who she was where she was. It must have been exceedingly lonely for her. She soldiered on with an amazing grace of spirit, right until the last breath. She showed me how to go the distance, how I must behave when life becomes overpoweringly too difficult and I am at its mercy.

Old friends are the best things in life. They are medicine bundles, the magic and blessing from the Creator. I love all of my old friends, whether they were included here or not. Growing old will not be too difficult as long as they are with me because life so far has not been too difficult thanks to their presence.


Mokasha said...

What's up Doc? Old friends are the best friends, and our best blessings. I think I have a few left. You are most certainly among them. Love&Light Mokasha

Jackie said...

We've been good friends for a long time! I count my long time friends as mighty treasure!