By David Carlson | For The Times-Post
Earlier this year, I renewed a friendship from more than 40 years ago.
I can’t remember which of us initiated the contact, but it has been a joy to chat back and forth, even if it is only by email.
Then, this past week, a friend from more than 50 years ago found my contact information on the internet and reached out.
It is common to say that “We picked up just where we left off,” but that isn’t completely true in these relationships.
We are, on the one hand, the persons we were back then and, on the other hand, quite different people.
And so as we connect, there is some “Do you remember when we did such and such?” but also “Tell me who you are now and what your life is like.”
In one case, my friend is more physically limited than in the past, so our days of playing tennis and Frisbee golf are definitely memories of the past.
This friend was always the better tennis player and Frisbee golfer, so he might not be surprised, when he moved away, that I no longer put myself through the humiliation of continuing those sports.
In the place of sports, this friend has now become an avid birder, something I wouldn’t have expected.
As this is a hobby of my wife, it’s been fun to read their posts back and forth about the birds that my friend can see from his chair by the window and my wife sees from her kayak.
And their love of birds has even begun to rub off on me. What has deepened my appreciation and love for this friend is that his limitations have not dimmed his joy of living.
The friend who contacted me last week is on a quest of a sort.
Remembering what we had in common back in the mid-’60s — we were both sons of Baptist ministers in our first year of college — he is keen on reflecting on his journey by asking me to reflect on mine.
His journey and mine are both similar at points and quite different in other ways, all of which makes for fascinating reading and fascinating reflecting.
How does a person summarize one’s own life for nearly 60 years? Not surprising, we’ve shared what might be considered the high points: our further educational endeavors, our marriages and families, our careers, and our present interests.
From this friend’s first contact, however, I could tell he wants more than the high points. He wants to explore not just what decisions each of us made, but why we made them.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, as this friend was always interested in the “why” question.
What I am finding is that answering that question isn’t always easy.
Why, when we came to certain forks in the road of life, did we choose the directions we did? And how did those decisions, some of them painful, some of them joyous, influence later decisions?
To throw a fancy but accurate term at this reflection, we are both involved in existential questioning.
While there are genetic and biological factors that partially determine who we are, existentialism suggests that what truly determines who we were, are, and will be is the decisions we make.
My friend who is now confined physically has decided to find joy in his circumstances by becoming a birdwatcher. He has a vehicle that has been converted to meet his needs, and he is still on the go.
And, while it might sound that my other friend is absorbed in the past, I think it’s fairer to say that he’s mining the past to construct the next chapter of his life.
And I? What am I to get out of these two renewed friendships?
I’m not completely sure, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
David Carlson is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected].