"Friends show their love in times of trouble, not happiness." -- Euripides
I don't know how many of you are lucky enough to have your best friend live in the same city as where you reside, or even in close enough proximity that you can see her or him on a lazy weekend whenever you both want to, but if you do it's something that should never be taken for granted. Round about this time 35 years ago my best friend, Bruce Lundy, and I were just getting to know each other, having met only a couple of months earlier. It wouldn't be accurate, even reflected through the rosiest of lenses, to say we were immediately inseparable, but it became clear rather quickly that we really enjoyed each other's company and had a strong mutual feeling that our friendship would be more durable than the average college acquaintance.
That feeling turned out to be accurate and then some. We survived the usual difficulties people have when getting to really know each other-- a sweltering 1980 summer spent in a camp trailer together while working at a grueling cannery job was the trial-by-fire experience we look back on and laugh about now—and by the time we vacated the familiar confines of the college environment we’d become the best and closest of friends, in the most profound and the most lighthearted of ways. We probably did take that ease of being with each other for granted, but we made sure that we stayed closely in touch wherever we were, which was fortunate because from the time we parted ways geographically in 1981 until the present we would have only about another year and a half—when I moved to Los Angeles in March 1987 until sometime late in 1988—when we lived only about five minutes apart. Otherwise, over about 28 years we’ve been able to maintain the closeness of brothers even though we’ve never been nearer to each other than 400 miles, with the current distance now more like 900.
When you get into your 50s life starts wearing you at the edges, and I’ve worried lately, perhaps more than I should have or have had reason to, about staying close to Bruce. We saw each other last August when he came here for a visit with his sister Laura (the above pic is from that weekend), and as circumstances would have it, other than the communication afforded by the whole social media deal, we haven’t talked since, probably the longest gap between hearing each other’s voices we’ve ever logged. It wasn’t for lack of trying. But those frayed edges I was speaking about are the result, at least partially, of attempting to find time to take a break from the daily responsibilities and distractions just to pick up the phone, of missed opportunities and exhausted evenings and self-assurances that “I’ll try to call tomorrow night.” After four months I worried more than once that maybe this was the point where old friends would begin truly to go their separate ways.
This past weekend, during which ugliness burst on our national consciousness like the worst sort of festering boil, as malignant and horrible and profoundly disillusioning a time as we’ve probably ever experienced as Americans, as humans, since the nightmares of 9/11, all I’ve felt like doing is gathering my loved ones around me, watching over them, holding them tight, hugging them randomly, incessantly, and trying to deal with the fact that I have absolutely no clue what is going on in the world around them. That’s a very scary place for a parent to find him or herself. I couldn’t have been distracted from the horror even if I wanted to be, and certainly it hasn’t seemed appropriate to keep up the banter and the relatively trivial pursuits available on Facebook and other activities. In fact, the ancillary nightmares attached to the Sandy Hook massacre that Facebook has made me aware of have served only to make me feel like retreating further. The insane right-wing politicizing, Christian fundamentalist rationalizing, the specter of the Westboro Baptist Church, racist tweets expressing outrage that President Obama would dare to interrupt a football game to address the Newtown community, reports of the quick and easy availability of the very weapons used to slaughter 26 people in this latest and near-greatest shooting-- they’ve all made me wonder if in fact the apocalypse might indeed be nigh, whether we’re too fractured and isolated as a nation to ever put away our prejudices, our bigotry, our fear, our selfishness and think about the general good long enough to seriously deal with the five-ton pile of steaming shit staring us right in our collective faces.
I don’t know if it was the impulse to reach out for comfort, or maybe it was just that circumstances were finally right, but right after dinner was served and babies were bathed I settled into a chair with a book (Stephen King’s 11/22/63, whose time-traveling, history-altering scenario may prove to be an especially fortuitous read right now), and the phone rang. It was Bruce. I felt a little self-conscious—it had been four months since we’d talked, after all. But it only took about 30 seconds for the rush of familiarity, of comfort in the rhythms of our style of exchange, of humor, of mutual concern, to begin to work their magic. An hour later we hung up, having aired out our frustrations about the calamities in the news, of course, but also of plans we were making together, of our hopes, struggles, and of course about what’s new at the movies, and it felt like nary a beat was missed. If those four months were not exactly erased, then at least they had been efficiently bridged, four months during which at least three high-profile mass killings occurred in the wake of Aurora, Colorado, not to mention a minor event like an expensive, divisive presidential election in which almost the entirety of the defeated party’s presumptions about the voting base in this country were upended. There was a lot of life, and a lot of death too, in those four months.
But somehow, as I hung up the phone last night, I felt a little less like I was drifting alone, the presumed head of the family to whom everyone looks as some sort of beacon of strength and resolve and surety, even when the lighthouse holding that beacon is shaky and unsound at its foundation. That family, as ill-equipped as I sometimes feel to be the best provider for them, is my greatest comfort, and I can only hope I am to them. But it was profoundly restorative last night to reestablish the connection I have with my best friend of 35 years, in whom I have faith as unshakable as any friend could have, a brother without whom I would feel lost, unable to face the challenges the world insists upon thrusting at me, at us, fresh and new and confounding and distressing ones, and sometimes thrilling ones, each new day. It might be a sentiment cribbed from a silly comedy, but it works for me. Bruce, I love you, man. Merry Christmas, oldest, closest, best friend.
"Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends." -- William Butler Yeats