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July 17th 2012 print

Michael Galak

Old friends

Michael writes: “It was truly wondrous week. I don't know if I was able to convey the feeling.” He was.

It was 40 years ago. We were saying good bye on the frozen platform of the Chelyabinsk train Station, standing next to the carriage, which was going to take me and my family on a long journey from frozen Siberia to the blessed boundlessness of the sunburnt plains of Australia. We all thought that we will never see each other again and our hearts were breaking. At the time our families, our friends – everyone who was dear to our hearts, was going to stay behind an Iron Curtain and we were getting out through the little chink, which had suddenly opened. The feeling of losing friends and family was devastating. As I said it was 40 years ago. How things have changed. In no feverish dream had we thought that we’d be able to see our friends and family again. What I am trying to describe is an almost miraculous several days spent with our friends in Vietnam.

There is no better way to feel better about oneself than meeting old friends many years since you saw them; old friends with whom you grew up into adulthood, did all sorts of silly things and got into trouble together. When I am saying feel better about oneself it does not mean, thanks be the Lord, I’m so decrepit that little dry pieces are falling off my .. well, falling off my body. What I mean to say is sometimes we all need a respite from being responsible, reasonable and rational; to get an exhilarating feeling of being young and silly again; to be certain that no matter the diameter of your paunch or the number of grey hairs on your sparsely populated cranium – you are seen, accepted and regarded as an earlier version of your youth. That is when the presence of people from the past, people who shared it with you, people in whose presence you feel free to walk around half naked, get drunk and maybe even break wind sometimes, as you did in those salad days – that is when the presence of old friends could be such a marvellous restorative. The titles do not matter, the money you’ve earned and books you’ve written do not matter – only you, your core, your friendship, and your humanity do. Besides, short of homicide, grand larceny and arson you will be indulged in a way nobody else, nowhere else would. That’s what friends are for, aren’t they? We have marvelled that 40 years or not, we treated each other as we used to in our student days. It was especially bittersweet, dotted with – “and the bastards said we’d never see each other again!”

Why this is so? Why do we care about an opinion of strangers and put our best foot forward, trying to look and be on our best behaviour, while at the same time allowing ourselves to behave in a much more relaxed and sometimes ridiculous way with old friends? Is it because we tend to defend our ego with healthy narcissistic self-perception, cloaking it with vanity, and propriety, declaring to the world – I am good and expect to be treated with respect and deference?

Like any simplistic explanation this one appeals to me by its simplicity and ease of understanding. Besides, if one looks up the subject in literature, the number of theories and explanations is staggering. So, I thought that this explanation of mine is as good as any other and decided to come back to the topic of meeting of old friends. After a week spent together with our friends overseas I am convinced that before starting a course of anti-depressants or electro convulsive therapy (ECT) for your well-earned and cherished depression interspersed with anxiety and self-regret – chuck it all in , mate, and get together with an old friend somewhere far, far away. Mind you, I do not have anything against anti-depressants or ECT – they are all right for lots of people and, sometimes, even help out when one is in trouble. However, before you start on it – try an old friend reunion and see. The feeling, almost forgotten but eagerly remembered, of reconstructed reality will take you back in time. The miraculous feeling of return to omnipotence and omniscience of youth and the amazing feeling of being in charge of one’s destiny to the extent of saying to an all-conquering time – “Oh, stop the moment! Thou art beautiful!” will fill you with an optimism and pride in your own as well as your friends’ achievements.

We spent one week together. It was, by our mutual admission, the shortest week of our life. It flew so quickly that when the time to leave arrived all of us looked at each other stunned, not believing it was over. The warmth of the reunion was so intense, though, that we still did not care much about the physical changes – paunches, missing hair, hypertension and such.  We felt sad and happy at the same time. The only thing we were able to say – thank you Lord that we were able to see each other again. The laughter, when it was the time to laugh was coming from the gut. The tears, when it was the time to cry, came from the heart. However sad we were to part – we were happy to have met our youth again. Sure as hell beats antidepressants


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