In my distant past (though not all that distant, it seems), I recall reading an essay by someone (perhaps it was Judith Viorst) who delineated the differences between several kinds of friendship. She divided friends into three categories: "friends, good friends, and such good friends."
The older I get, the more I understand what she meant. I've had many people during my life whom I've called my friends. But not all friends are of equal quality. Time reveals that fact as some of the people we once thought were friends just disappeared, or maybe they disappointed or disagreed so harshly with us that they unilaterally distanced themselves from us. Many "friends" thereby proved that they were no longer really friends in the truest sense of that word. They were mere acquaintances.
Take, for instance, college roommates. I estimate that during 11 semesters of college (including three of which were grad school), I had many different roommates. Although I counted all of them as friends, they were scattered across a long continuum of friendship. Almost all of them disappeared from my circle of acquaintance after college (some after one semester) as we all went our separate ways, followed our different majors and careers, got married, had families, etc. I guess I could count on both hands those good friends with whom I maintained some degree of contact over the years.
But then there is a small handful of people I have known whom I can consider to be in Viorst's third category: such good friends. I might not maintain regular contact with them, but when we do contact each other, we seem to pick up right where we left off the last time, no matter how long it's been since we last talked.
Last week, I had two such occasions during which I reconnected with two such good friends.
First was Craig Stone. He and I had been roommates our sophomore year of college. We were both history education majors. We often had classes together. We sometimes studied for history, government, and economics exams together. We debated political and social issues. We played practical jokes on each other. (One test of true friendship is whether the person will still be your friend after you've crumbled cookies in his dress shoes just before he goes on a hot date or imbedded holly berries in his deodorant stick or short-sheeted his bed or typed nonsensical sentences randomly throughout his research paper when he stepped out for a break or committed a dozen other college pranks against him.)
And then we moved on, I to grad school and he to teaching in Florida. We reconnected a few years later when I was in his wedding and then again when he was in mine. Over the years, however, we each got busy with life, children, careers, etc., and we didn't stay in touch as often. But occasionally he would call just to chat, and it was as though we'd never gone separate ways. And sometimes when each us was en route to other destinations, we would spend the night at each others' homes.
I texted him the other day to ask whether I had sent him a copy of the book I'd promised him when it became available. I had not. It had just slipped my mind. But he didn't just text his answer. He called. And we talked for another half hour or so. And it was as if we were just resuming an interrupted conversation from last week. Such good friends.
And then another friend from the past, Jim Blizzard, a fellow with whom I had grown up and gone to church (his father was the pastor), called to ask if he and his wife, Debbie, could stay at our house during his family's early Thanksgiving reunion in our area. Connie and I were honored that he would stay with us rather than with his own family. (But then again, that might not have been a hard choice for them. After all, they did have 18 grandchildren to deal with at the reunion, so our house provided them a quiet respite from the holiday hubbub.)
As young people, Jim and I often were at each other's house, playing baseball, joining in the families' meals, tromping through my grandfather's pastures and woodlands, sledding together in the winter, and pestering our respective younger sisters, Gina and Linda. We attended the youth group meetings together, memorizing verses and learning the catechism. We built up quite a pile of memories during those years. But then I went away to college. Later, he attended a different college. We ended up living in different states and pursuing different careers. And we seemingly lost contact with each other.
But the kind of friendship we had survives such "disruptions" of life and is readily resumed whenever we do manage to reconnect. For example, we had "collided" with each other years ago when both of us were attending a meeting in Philadelphia, neither of us knowing that the other would be there. Later, we both attended a wedding anniversary celebration for Jim's parents. We spent the night with him and his family once when en route to visit my in-laws. We also once wanted to surprise him by dropping in (unannounced) at a Sunday morning service at the church he pastors, but we were the ones who were surprised because he was in Kenya on a mission trip at the time.
But whenever we have been able to connect, though years might intervene between such meetings, we've picked up right where we left off, as though there had been no interruption. We laugh as we reminisce. We commiserate as we discuss current situations, including the new (to us) problems that just naturally come with the aging process. We ponder the prospects of the future, not only ours but also our children's and our grandchildren's.
That, I think, is what Viorst meant when she defined "such good friends." Craig Stone and Jim Blizzard I count among the few such good friends. We share, in many ways, a common past. We share many common interests and perspectives and friends. And, most importantly, we share a common faith. And that, I'm convinced, is what really creates such good friends.