EL PASO — A good friend is better than a bad marriage. I have had two bad marriages, but I have friendships that lasted longer than both. I have almost 50 friends, friends I have had for almost 50 years and friends whose ages span almost 50 years. I feel really blessed.
It was the drum circle guys who got me thinking about this. Almost every week a group of guys get together and drum. They range in age from 20-somethings to 60-somethings. They bring their separate lives together for a few hours and share each other’s rhythms and beats, revel in their own sound and the sounds they make together. One drums as if he had to, another as an intellectual or spiritual exercise, a third in a dance with the drum. I feel resuscitated listening to them.
Friendship is not FaceBook; it is a special gift that can’t be given to everyone with the click of a mouse. The longer a friendship lasts, the dearer it is. When I am with my old friends, we are forever young. I see them and they see me as we were when we first met.
Our families start out being our only friends, but we didn’t choose them; we do choose our adult friends. As the extended family disappears, the nuclear family shrinks, and we become more mobile, it is less likely that we will find a true friendship among those with whom we share our DNA, no matter how much we love them. I was lucky enough to have an aunt and a couple of cousins I could count as friends.
As school children we make friends of convenience, not a true choice. We are age-segregated in classrooms situated in schools that are neighborhood segregated. This usually means that our “friends” are the same age, ethnicity, social class, and gender as we are. We do the same things in and after school. If we play sports our friends do too; if our friends join band we do too. They are “us” before we even know who “we” are.
College is really our first chance to get to know people who are different from us, and get to know ourselves at the same time. This is harder to do at a school like UTEP where so many students live at home and have jobs before or after classes. It is possible though, and I would like to suggest that late night discussions about the meaning of life are very important. Do we really want to spend the rest of our lives talking to the same people and doing the same things we did in high school? Some high school friendships wear well over time and, like an old flannel shirt or pair of shoes, they comfort us, and we would never throw them away. But investing wisely in new friendships during college and caring for these friendships over time will also be a rich reward fifty years from now.
Making friends with old people if you are young and young people if you are old and all the ages in between, adds another rhythm or beat to a circle of friends. Maybe we get to remember or relive a moment of our youth, steer someone clear of a path we took, forgive ourselves for what we did or didn’t do, change our hopes for middle age, or be less afraid of growing old. Wise counsel and friendship can be found among persons of all ages, and all everything else. I feel resuscitated already, all ready for a new day, a riff here, a little improv there.
Editor’s note: Dr. Cheryl Howard is Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Over the coming months she will be introducing you to more of her students and giving you a glimpse of how a retired UTEP professor spends her time cooking, gardening and crafting. Photos from friend, former student and Borderzine contributor, Raymundo Aguirre, will accompany some of the blogs. Raymundo has his own blog, Bean Juice Dispatches.