Years before Millennials coined BFF (text-talk for Best Friends Forever), we were Friends For Life. (FFL). We were in primary school together.
No one knows you like those you grow up with. Posturing is pointless around these folks. They always knew whether you were clumsy or a basketball star, could or shouldn’t sing, nerdy or poor at math, pretty and popular or not so much… whatever you were. And they still know.
If you think time stops when you visit your college roommate, try re-connecting with your third-grade nemesis who played Mary in the Christmas pageant while you sweltered under a scratchy sheep costume. Or your senior classmate elected “Miss Popularity” while you were voted “Most Likely to Travel.” Or the Football Sweetheart beaming on the arm of the football captain at the Prom while you slinked in accompanied by a truculent cousin. You’ll pick up exactly where you left off, like it or not.
Having now achieved a certain age, I have come to treasure these friendships, even though I lived far away from them for many years. All is forgiven now — well almost all. So after the obligatory family news updates, the “do you remember’s” take over. “Do you remember the time the home-ec teacher ripped out all our aprons and made us start over the week before finals? Or the time Becky stole secret photographs of her sister and sold them to neighborhood boys? Or the summer that June and Vicky drove twenty miles every Wednesday night to meet their boyfriends while their mothers thought they were at vacation bible school? Or the day Wanda backed her daddy’s car all the way home from the lake trying to run back the miles on the odometer? Or the time Jane burned her tongue trying to smoke cornsilk? Or how we used to “Dive and Duck” under the desks for bomb drills? And so it goes until we’re all hoarse from laughing. There is just nothing else like it.
But there is more here than nostalgia. Our bond was created by an accident of birth that consigned us to the same zip code for our most formative years. We weren’t friends because we chose each other. We were friends because we knew each other. Our parents knew each other. In most cases, our grandparents knew each other. Many of us were cousins. We went to the same churches. We stood in line together for school vaccinations, we rode the same school-bus, went to the same Saturday afternoon movies. We had crushes on the same cute boys, cheered the football team together and wore the same ugly gym suits. Community was a given. We absorbed it like the summer heat. Even when we didn’t like each other, we belonged together. And we still do.
I have many beautiful friendships that came later in life. They have enriched, supported and inspired me. They are no less cherished, but they are different. They did not spring from what I will call generational community. By definition, generational communities accept and take responsibility for their members. We found a place for Linda on our softball team even though she never hit the ball. When Sandy’s ill-tempered little dog Princess died, we cried together. And today, if Sarah needs a ride to the clinic, even though we may cringe at her political views, one of us is there.
These days we choose our friends. People we work with, who share our hobbies, political views, churches, professional organizations. But we may live for years next door to families we wouldn’t recognize at the grocery store. And I think we are poorer for it. If I don’t know my neighbor, I can’t help my neighbor; my neighbor cannot help me. If I hide behind a cloak of anonymity, does anyone really know who I am? Do I?
All of my friends have been and continue to be teachers in my life. But my first grade friends were my first teachers. They taught me the meaning of community. And the lessons we learned together in our first community have supported and united us through the hills and gullies of our lives. That’s why we’re Friends for Life.