I HAD THE PRIVILEGE this weekend of attending the wedding of my friends Jen and Steve. This is the first one I've attended in a while, and since last Christmas season, my most recent chance to see folks from out of town. Having this opportunity gave me reason to think about how much I believe I have changed in the decades I have been lucky enough to know these people . . . and how much I owe them for sticking by me when, at times, I was not such good company.
Though a core group of us still dwells across the green, glowing expanse of the Garden State, many of my friends moved during the Nineties to start lives across the country. The Internet is no substitute for having one's near and dear within an hour's ride on the highway. So we end up seeing snapshots of one another . . . literally in the form of Flickr or Snapfish collections, figuratively as clusters of men and women in their wedding or holiday duds, bringing one another up to speed on their doings and tidings since the last such event. A few hours of happy contact, a brace of shots on the digicams, and then back to the latter-day telegraphy of email and blog posts.
So when I do have a chance to meet up with them, I inevitably think about our shared pasts. I go back as far as 24 years with some of these folks. I treasure much of it. Some of it makes me shudder, because I was, at times, a grievously immature man. Despite whatever inherent loyalty, trustworthiness, and charm I had through college and in my twenties, my friends also had to endure my whining, mood swings, jealousy, irrational nostalgia, refusal to experiment with the unknown, and other random idiocy. I'm sure at the time it wasn't as constant as it seems from this vantage point in my life, but they stand out as regrettable. Yet through these stretches in my life, these people stood by me.
This weekend, in speaking with those friends of mine who live far away, I gave them a capsule summary of my recent layoff and the state of my current plans. I felt very much like a grownup. Not in the sense of having to pay bills and work a job, or raising kids, or coping with the aches and pains of aging — or getting married, for that matter — all very tangible aspects of adulthood. I mean it in the sense that I felt in some control of my life, able to speak about the next steps intelligently, and to describe the unknowns with some confidence in my ability to manage them when they emerge from the shadows. I was able to communicate my present state of being positively, without bitching about my layoff or denigrating my skills or prospects. For those who know me as long as they do, it's a huge difference from even 10 years ago.
I write all of this not to brag, because I will surely relapse at some point, being only human. I write this instead to thank those who have kept me close despite my very human failings and my less desirable behavior over the years. They believed in me far more often than I believed in myself for quite a while. Ultimately it's my own skin in which I lie down each night, and to which I am most responsible. But it's my friends I think about at the end of the day, and without whom there'd be very few reasons to rise the next morning.