I’ve never believed that living in the past is a good thing. It’s too easy to either wallow in nostalgia for “the good old days” or to get trapped into believing that we can never move on from a difficult or troubled history. And if I’m honest, I also have to admit that most of the time it takes all my energy just to cope with the present and whatever happens to be going on in my life at this particular moment. Which means that I don’t give all that much thought to my past as I muddle along in my day-to-day life. Until, that is, something happens to make me stop and remember.
Last week, I learned that an old friend had entered into Hospice care after a prolonged illness. Although we didn’t see much of each other in the past several years, she was someone I was quite close to when my children were young and the two of us were very active at our church. I often relied on her advice, not only on how to be a good mother, but also on how to deal effectively and patiently with difficult personalities. (I once heard someone refer to the two of us as, “the nice one and the bitchy one.” And I wasn’t the one he was referring to as nice.) Eventually, our lives took different paths and we became the kind of friends who didn’t make much effort to stay in touch, but who always found it easy to connect on the rare times we did get together.
Still, I was surprised at how much the news of her death hurt, and how many wonderful memories of our time together came flooding back. And then I realized that the strong relationships we form in our past can have a powerful effect on our lives for years afterwards. Her friendship was not only a precious gift to me, it was also a part of my personal history, so the loss of my friend is still profound and the grief is still real. I now know that true friendships are a life-long gift and need to be valued as such, no matter what the circumstances.
In this past year, I reconnected with an old college friend who I was dumb enough to lose touch with when she moved to another state. She and her husband visited us twice, and we were instantly comfortable with each other, laughing and talking as freely as we did twenty years ago. Words can’t express how grateful I am to be able to spend time with them again, and my husband and I are already planning a trip to visit them in the very near future.
I still don’t believe in living in the past. But I have figured out that our personal histories, and the relationships we formed along our journey through life, have an enduring impact on who we are today. Some of the relationships we had weren’t good for us, and we need to leave those behind. But when we are lucky enough to find true friendship, we need to recognize it for exactly what it is: a gift that is with us for life.