The following is a quote from a note from an old friend. It’s in response to a statement I made about how it seems that it gets harder and harder to keep up with the work of friendships the older you get.
"I … sometimes feel a gradual growing distance in friendships. My perception is that for 95% of my life this didn’t occur. However perceptions, mine and others, are unexplainable, more mysterious than women.” (I didn’t know anything could be more mysterious than women, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day)
I’ve thought about this a lot and have concluded that there are some real reasons for this “gradual growing distance” that seems to infect those of us who are more or less fortunate enough to live a long time.
To begin with, older people have more going on in their lives that they have to deal with every day. The inventory of things you can no longer do or do well. Failing eyesight, hearing, lung power and bowel action, balance, dwindling strength, diminished libido, the expanding list of actual diseases. These things begin to occupy more and more of one’s thoughts. At least that’s how it is here.
There is a more subtile element going on here as well. We men often act as though we think we’re all alone in this struggle to survive in the aging process. This is its own disease. A couple of old guys can spend hours together every day and not know what’s going on with each other. Women can’t do this. They talk – share – confide – laugh and cry. It’s personal. Men have to have some un-personal activity or subject matter to talk about. Poker, football, golf, fishing. Nothing wrong with any of that but guys can hang out for days around one or more of these activities and never know one of them is sick or sad or afraid. This would never happen with women.
I don’t know just where I’m going here except that it seems easier for men to adjust to isolation. And that’s a self defeating talent. A kind of default self-maintaining virus infected algorithm.
When I was growing up, there were many overseeing adults in my life. The entire neighborhood was my mother. In order to maintain my sanity – or more to the point, the sense of who I was – I found myself hiding out in my garage attic or my tree top lair or off somewhere on my bicycle. I was expert at escaping.
The outcome of this early “training” was the often repeated desire to become a hermit. To go off and live in a cabin in the woods. Beyond authority. And as I now know, beyond companionship, wi-fi, a good liquor store and probably beyond medical care. I suppose what it boils down to is – beyond reality.
Isolation from time to time is necessary to reset one’s clock to standard time. It increases the value of community and companionship.
So there are two old guys sitting on a bench. Sharing their fears, pains, hopes and even dreams. Laughing, crying and yelling at each other – from time to time reaching out and touching one another … to be reminded of their humanness… .