Admit it, you’ve sneaked a peek at the Facebook listing of a grade-school pal or enemy; you’ve Googled a high school sweetheart; you’ve even contemplated going to a reunion, after decades of scorning them. You may not be able to explain this increasing curiosity about those long-lost relationships, but we are all doing it. Think of it as historical house-cleaning. Among the many needs that emerge as we reach our fifties, sixties, and seventies is the need to explore the past, put nagging guilts and resentments to rest, and cull the meaningful lessons and cherished reminiscences we want to preserve.
Childhood friends are in a unique position to facilitate that process; they knew you back before you knew yourself. The turmoil of those first friendships were your first experiences in loyalty, betrayal, daring, intimacy. Furthermore, they are living fact-checkers on the personal narrative you have learned by heart. Your old friends can fill in gaps, offer a different perspective on events, and remind you how much fun you had, as they best-friend you all over again.
A longing for authentication sends us to Facebook and Google and even to looking someone up when you are passing through the town they live in. Or, possibly signing up for a class reunion. Why now?
- To see how they turned out, especially the ones you admired or loved or hated.
- To get a perspective on how you turned out.
- To sit at your “regular” table in the dining room and share silly stories of foolishness or daring that only you and they remember. And giggle the way you haven’t for decades.
- To cast a wistful glance back to those feisty, funny, energetic kids you were.
- To reminisce about your parents and siblings with people who actually knew them, and knew them the way they were when your family was shaping your life. Who else in the world knows what your childhood bedroom looked like? What was kept in the refrigerator for after-school snacks?
- To catch up on “gossip” — which really means the successes and comeuppances, the highs and tragedies that befell those, including you, who had no idea what was to come or how they would cope. Reunions are for gathering life stories about how your youthful contemporaries have made it to now –or not.
- To be stunned by who has died and under what circumstances. And for a moment to glance at your own mortality before moving on.
- To straighten a few things out. To apologize for the time you played a trick on Sally, an event you have regretted it all your life. To ask Tom why he canceled the camping trip you planned. To ask Jane why she never stayed in touch.
- To make new connections. Since you are starting from a unique familiarity, the re-friendships or new friendships that emerge from that common ground and move forward have a very special combination of depth and freshness.
- And, of course, To see how old or fat they look. The irony is that within minutes you can’t tell. As soon you are into the first sentence of a conversation, they look to you exactly as they did when last you saw each other.
That is the miracle of childhood friends; they will always be there as witness to the past and reflection of our own life trajectory.