My former students will probably be surprised to hear that I consider myself to be an introvert. They really only saw me “on stage” in the classroom, essentially playing the role of my profession. Even in my social life I feel as if I play different roles. I’ve even been on stage in a couple of community theatre productions, and in leading or major roles, as well. My wife and I go out quite a bit and interact with all sorts of people. For me it’s still an act. Getting dressed is putting on a costume.
When I was a kid, I spent most of my time alone with my books or wandering around in the woods of the river bluffs near my home. My earliest friends were my two younger brothers, of course, but like many siblings who are close in age, we truly didn’t become good friends until we were adults. I had some close friends as I was growing up. Although we had our share of disagreements—and sometimes outright fist fights—we learned a great deal from one another. It was fifty years after high school graduation before I attended a reunion, but reconnecting with some of my old buddies has been good. It’s about the only thing I like about Facebook.
My best friends are people I met in college or after. Even that was forty-plus years ago. They’re folk, male and female, who fit into the mold of “no matter how long it’s been, we pick right up where we left off.” We’ve shared all of the coming-of-age trauma, marriages, parenting, loss of loved ones. I still get a message now and then from someone with whom I haven’t been in contact for years and it’s like nothing has changed. I just the other day had one of those text message exchanges with a fraternity brother I hadn’t been in touch with for a good forty years. Reminiscing is fun most of the time. Since I’m well into my seventh decade, however, the sad reality is that some of our reunions are at funerals. Because of that I think I’ll try to do a better job at communicating with the living.
My good wife is my opposite. A definite extrovert. She’s introduced me to neighbors I hadn’t met in the twenty-plus years I’ve lived here. We’ve also had many new couples and families move onto our block-long street, so we’ve been getting to know the young people and their children. They’re all much, much younger. Several are the same age or younger than our youngest sons and daughters. Of course, most of my teaching colleagues were younger, also, and we’ve become good friends with some of them.
These young friends bring a much different perspective to my life. Some of that is, as my wife says, that I’m always teaching. Now and then someone will ask for my opinion or advice or help with something, and I’m always open to helping out in any way I can. Experience is a good teacher, but the tests are tough. It’s better to get some guidance. So we are the resident grandparents on our street and the “older couple” some of our younger friends turn to now and then. Believe me, it’s not a one-way flow of benefits.
We love interacting with the little ones. They are so full of energy and wonder. I’ve always been one who is aware of the natural world, but nothing is so beautiful and exciting as it is through the eyes of a child. The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year, and our young neighbors allow me to indulge myself and do lots of decorating and enjoyment of the traditions. Yes, I have a Santa suit! They know me as one of Santa’s helpers: “Danta”! It’s great fun.
Their young parents and the other young adults we know have filled the hole in my life where my high school students used to be. I hear of their hopes and dreams, trials and tribulations, and they don’t flinch too much when they hear me say, “Well, when I was your age…,” or some variation thereof. I used to tell stories to my students, too. At least I think I made them relevant and instructive and helpful. Haven’t seen any eye rolls.
They keep me in touch with the world. Oh, I read the paper every morning and watch the news and try not to become too depressed. Remember, I’m an introvert. It’s easy for me to withdraw. I need my friends, young and old, to keep me connected. If not for my very best friend, my wife, I would have become a real hermit.
Whoever they are, friends young and old, near and far, I value them immensely. They are more than mere ornaments in my existence. They are my true connections to life. I only hope I can be of some value to them.
It’s an old saw, but quite true: If you want to have a friend, you have to be a friend.
Have we met?