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How we find our old friends. Image via Wikipedia

I learned yesterday that an old friend of mine — someone I haven’t seen since the late 1980s, and haven’t even spoken with since 1997 — is alive but in advanced dementia. I had lost touch with her, and someone had told me, erroneously, a few years back that she had died. I’m happy to learn that my friend lives, even if under the cruel sentence of the loss of memory and reason. I’m going to write her a letter and basically introduce myself to her and say that her friendship meant a lot to me. Even if it doesn’t affect her, perhaps it will please her daughter, with whom she now lives.

It’s been a recurring theme in this blog that I’m not very good at staying in touch with old friends. Then somebody dies, and I feel perhaps an even more acute sense of loss, magnified by my loss of contact with that person. At this point in my life, I have quite a catalog of old friends with whom I’ve lost touch. Facebook has put me back in touch with literally scores of such people, ranging from classmates in kindergarten to old girlfriends (!) from college, to work associates from only a decade ago. It’s nice to have these folks as Facebook friends; I can check in with them from time to time, and they do the same, which is probably about all our matured friendship requires. But that’s so much better than getting word about the passing of yet another person with whom I haven’t communicated in years.

I suppose some people might read this and say “well, get in touch with all your old friends that you’ve lost contact with, already!” But is that such an easy task to accomplish? If someone is not readily visible online, tracking them down the old-fashioned way might take a considerable investment of time. For a formerly close friendship that was unhappily lost and for which I would gladly move a mountain, that would make sense. But the kinds of friends that I’m talking about here are those what were of a more casual nature, people I got to know and whose company I enjoyed, but who were never true intimates of mine (well, except for maybe some of those old girlfriends, but we won’t go there). At the risk of sounding cold, it seems that triage applies even to the algorithm of maintaining relationships over time and space. Some, it seems, are simply best left behind (or, consigned to the infrequent contact of social media).

I believe so much in living in the present, and especially with my daughter and my father both living into (and dying from) their own serious illnesses, it seems like the present is all I have time for. But the shadow side of that is the ghostly claim of the past, a ghost that rattles its chain whenever someone else crosses the threshold separating time from eternity. For the most part, I have no regrets about my life: whenever I get into a funky space (usually about education, like “I should have gone to seminary” or “I wish I earned a doctorate”), I quickly remind myself that as happy as I am now, how can I be sure that changing even one detail of my past would have made for a better life? It’s just as likely that the road not taken could have led to disaster. So I appreciate the present, and leave it at that. But I wish more of my old friends were on Facebook. That might make for less moments of sadness when I learn of yet another loss.