After nearly five months of studying abroad in Spain, my youngest son returned, speaking Spanish like a pro, with his head full of the many sights he’d seen and the experiences he had. The culture shock of being back in the U.S. wasn’t what was hardest for Greg; rather, it was the realization that he will rarely see the many friends he made in the study abroad program—they live scattered all over the U.S.
Together, they endured the stress of being lost and clueless in a foreign city. They had the pleasure of discovering Roman ruins, Moorish palaces, Mediterranean beaches, and amazing meals. They stayed in sketchy hostels and traveled hungover on smelly buses. They saw each other at their worst and liked each other anyhow.
“Don’t worry. You’ll see them again,” my oldest son reassured him. About a month ago, Mike had been in Los Angeles on business where he reunited with several friends he’d made when he studied in Italy three years ago. Over breakfast, Mike and his friends traded stories about the Real Jobs they’ve acquired and caught up on who’s seeing whom. But more importantly, they didn’t take themselves too seriously—they never have.
“You’ll be surprised how easy it is to pick right up where you left off,” he said.
I added, “There’s no reason you can’t be friends for life. The person you are in your 20’s is your essential self—you and your friends will still be those people 30 years from now.”
I can speak from experience. Several weeks ago, I met up with three friends I’ve known since I was in my 20’s: Pam, Rich and Sue (husband and wife). Together, we experienced the culture shock of moving from decent-sized cities to a small college town on the prairie. We muddled through our first full-time teaching jobs in a dysfunctional English department. We entertained ourselves by creating musical alter egos—a girl band called Pam and the Pamettes who were managed by Señor Grif, a.k.a. Rich. We planned spicy Mexican potlucks to heat up the long Minnesota winters. We shared poetry, short stories, and complaints.
More than 30 years later, we are the same in all of the important ways. Although I haven’t seen Rich and Sue in more than 10 years, the four of us were immediately at ease with each other. We’re still true-blue liberals, who love art, good books and good food.
As the antidote to a sobering conversation about coping with aging parents, Rich pretended to be a character called the Know-It-All Guy whose job is giving extemporaneous lectures (i.e., making up stuff about silver mining or the habits of dolphins). We laughed till our stomachs hurt. Pam and Rich riffed about the K-I-A Guy for days while Sue rolled her eyes and I egged them on—exactly the kind of silly fun we’ve always had.
I’m grateful to have these lifelong friends gracing my life. With any luck, my sons will have lifelong friendships like these, too.