A friend, Jenny, asked me last weekend why I have stopped blogging. I haven’t really; it is just that the holiday season has got in the way. It is both comforting and gratifying that Jenny told me that she reads my blog and that she is looking forward to the next one: thank you for expressing your support Jenny and thank you to the others of you who also told me on Sunday that you read my blog. I will endeavor to keep posting.
Accordingly, I have called this blog post Old Friends and Absent Friends.
“Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.”
Jenny was amongst a group of friends who got together last Sunday at the home of Ian and Ruth. We all met at university in the late sixties and early seventies, attended each other’s weddings and went our separate ways when we left the university. Despite being spread around the country, we meet once a year at one of the group’s home for food, wine and talk. There is something very satisfying to know that we have kept in touch forty-five years after we closed the chapters of our university lives.
There have been a few health scares amongst our group of friends, some serious. However, we are all still here and hope to take up conversations where we left off last Sunday when it will be someone else’s turn to host the summer reunion next year.
In my experience, long-term friendships are a significant and valuable legacy of time spent at university. I feel very lucky that I met this group of people and feel fortunate we still keep in touch many years later. Most couples (in the group) have had a family (now grown up); we have all had careers and lives enriched with our own, separate group of friends and experiences. However when we get together for our summer reunion it is as if time has been compressed to welcome a sense of ease in our greetings, conversations and reminiscences.
The passing of the years has meant that we know each other well enough to keep the flame of friendship flickering for as long as old friends endure.
“Grief will happen to all of us; we will be visited by its shadow.”
― David Muir Etheridge, unpublished.
A few years ago, I got to know an amazing man: Rod Ling. Rod is no longer with us and has become an absent friend. The chapel at the crematorium where we paid our respects to Rod a few weeks ago was absolutely packed. Every seat was taken and the sides and rear of the chapel was filled with people standing. I have never been to a funeral where there were so many mourners.
Rod’s wife, Di, asked me to read a poem I had written for Rod. Several people spoke or read poems at the wake held at Moseley School, in Birmingham, where Rod taught for many years. I just about made it to the end of my poem without crumpling with emotion.
Rod was a brilliant writer. His book ‘If These Walls Could Whisper’ (available as an eBook or as a paperback from Amazon) is a scintillating adventure story for teenagers of all ages. Rod was also a gifted blogger. His posts were by turns poignant, urbane or bucolic; some talked about his journey into but not quite out of his battle against cancer that finally took his life a few weeks ago. I particularly remember one of Rod’s wittiest blogs about a visit to the Bridgewater service station on the M5. It is a terrible place, but Rod’s blog described the hideous car park and ‘restaurant’ to great comic effect.
My wife and I passed Bridgewater services when we returned home from Cornwall a few days ago. As we ignored the inviting sign to stop, I immediately thought of Rod’s amusing post and soon found myself with a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
If we are fortunate, our lives are blessed with good friends but sadly, in time, we are very likely to face the inevitability of absent friends casting a shadow over our hearts and filling our minds with memories that can no longer be added to.
Last Sunday, my time was spent with several old friends, good friends whose company occupied my mind while it was bent towards thinking about Rod Ling, absent friend, missing husband, lost father. Rod was a truly great man; it was a privilege to have known him for a time.