Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton recently recorded a song that has really touched my heart: “You can’t Make Old Friends.” My father told me about this song when he called me on my 50th birthday a few weeks ago. Dad will be turning 73 on April 25th, and I think we are both struggling with the speed in which life passes by. My dad is well traveled, but for the most part, he has been able to live around the area in which he grew up. Therefore, he held onto some friends he has known since his childhood. When my dad heard the song, by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton he says it brought tears to his eyes. Many of his old friends have now passed away. Others have become frail and can no longer get around like they used to. It’s true: you can’t make old friends and he misses the days when they could hang out together.
When I heard the song, I teared up too. I haven’t lived as long as my father, but I have lived long enough to appreciate one of life’s greatest gifts. Old friends are getting to be so rare. Everybody has gotten so mobile and busy anymore that friendships have become extinct, especially old friendships.
I have grown up in a culture where the art of being a friend has largely been lost. Relationships have become somewhat disposable and people seem to have lost the art of trying to work through things. Old friendships stand the test of time. We see each other at our worst, and work through the differences and hard times to maintain a relationship. Old friends accept each other in spite of the things we don’t like about each other, and there is always those things we don’t like. But that is what makes the relationships special.
As much as I have moved around in my life, I don’t have many I can consider “old friends.” I only know two people from my childhood days: Dallas Matthis & and Elbert Myers. Unfortunately, we are little more than acquaintances today. I have friends like Bob Slight and Frank Nitek that I have known since we were in the Marines together. I had my last drink with these two men when Bob and I visited Frank in the hospital. But we’ve all gone in different direction and hardly know each other anymore.
Keith Brown has been one of my closest friends since college. We still stay in touch to encourage each other in the ministry, but we don’t usually get much of a chance to talk like we wish we could. Jeff Johnson carried me through some really rough times, and we spent hours talking over the phone. But Jeff passed away in 2013 leaving a void in my life which has yet to be filled.
My oldest and dearest friend, of course, is my wife. We have known each other since the fall of 1988, and we have been inseparable since. This May will mark our 25th year of marriage which means we have been together over half of our lives. We’ve shared the good times as well as the bad and there is nobody on this earth who knows me better. Nor is there anyone I want to be with more. We’ve parented two children and are looking forward to our first grandchild in May as well. But we’ve really only just begun.
Last week I was able to witness the beauty of “old friends” in action. They have been married 68 years. They’ve been together since they were children and their lives we so entwined together that nobody is sure if one can survive without the other. I guess it all started with a fall. They fell together as one tried to save other but hadn’t the strength, so they both fell down. Things took a turn for the worse and the woman needed to be hospitalized in such serious condition that it is still not certain if she will be able to survive. The man is feeble, but persistent. He became quite unruly whenever he couldn’t be with his old friend. Nothing seemed to matter to him, but being by her side. He didn’t care to eat, take medication or even sleep. He wanted to be with her. Period.
It’s a terrible thing to witness when life is near the end, but at the same time, I think it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen as well. Two people quietly holding hands and hoping for the best and determined to be side by side come what may. They’ve raised children together, seen grandchildren, and great grandchildren born and raised. They’ve struggled through all of life’s trials together. I imagine they have forgotten what life was like when they weren’t together.
It’s sad, but life is like that. But in the midst of some of the most painful times, there is something beautiful displayed that somehow makes sense of it all. Old friends are that beautiful element of life that makes everything worthwhile.