When I was in high school I was so incredibly blessed. I had such wonderful friends. My friends were kind, and creative, and adventurous, and funny, and serious sometimes too. We talked about nothing and we talked about everything. We dreamed out loud together.
When we weren’t busy at school or at our part-time jobs, our hours were filled with laughter and adventure together. We took impromptu trips to the coast where we surfed the frigid waves of the Washington coast. We rode our bikes everywhere. We watched second-run movies at the local dollar theater. We got coffee and milkshakes after midnight at Denny’s. We drove to Snoqualmie Pass for midweek night skiing. We spent entire days waterskiing on American Lake. We went skimboarding at Dash Point and Chamber’s Creek. We rolled the windows down and played our music loud.
These were the friends I was certain would be my best friends for the rest of our lives. I had another, far more numerous set of friends back then as well. At the time, I thought of them as my School Friends. School Friends were classmates and they were teammates. We shared interests and often had incredibly deep conversations during group work time, at lunch, or on the bus trip to/from a track meet, wrestling match, or soccer game. We would always get to the end of the school year and write something like “Keep In Touch” in one another’s yearbooks.
I often felt a sense of melancholic lost opportunity with my School Friends. A “what if, if only” sort of feeling. What if I had the courage to invite one of my School Friends to join my group of best friends on a weekend surfing or hiking or camping trip? I never did because I was scared of messing up the chemistry of my group of best friends. Plus, I always carried an insidious fear that my best friends were just really kind souls who tolerated my presence: and I didn’t want to test that tolerance by introducing more people to our group. Of course the perspective that comes with middle age reveals just how foolish and unfounded those fears were but they were petrifying at the time.
If only I had been less absorbed in my own fears and insecurities, if only I thought just a little bit more of others and less of myself, many of those School Friends would certainly have become lifelong confidants.
I hadn’t thought about my high school dichotomy of friendship into Best Friends and School Friends for years until a couple of weeks ago. I teach high school students. We have been in a 100% remote learning situation for the final quarter of last school year and now for nearly the first half of this school year. So every school interaction is over some form of electronic media. I was on a 1:1 call with one of my students and the conversation turned from the final draft of her Economics essay to how she was coping with a remote learning senior year of high school. She talked about how she was grateful to be able to have a flexible schooling schedule that accommodates the two part time jobs she holds, but then paused and said “I didn’t think I would miss my School Friends as much as I do.” I asked her what she meant by that, and she discussed the various ways her closest circle of friends have managed to stay in contact during the pandemic, and then reflected on how she’s realizing how much she had taken the hallway, classtime, and lunchroom conversations with School Friends for granted.
I realized then that I’ve never been alone in making up strange taxonomies of friendship in my head. We all have relationships with different levels of frequency, intensity, and duration. The thinking error I’ve often been guilty of is in putting off any meaningful generosity, invitation, or embrace until a friendship levels up from School Friend to Best Friend. And so, I asked my student if I could share a challenge with her in response to her reflection about missing her School Friends. She consented, so I challenged her to pick up the phone and contact a few of these School Friends she was missing. Let them know they’re known, and valued, and missed. I asked her to imagine how wonderful and encouraged she might feel if she received that kind of call (or text or DM or whatever) from one of her school friends. She lit up (I suppose: it was a phone call, but I could hear it in her voice) and enthusiastically agreed to take action on this challenge.
Teachers often make great actors. You know the classical origin of our word hypocrite, right? The original hypocrites weren’t liars or parents or teachers who said one thing and did another. They were actors. They played a role on stage. And so in that sense of the word I’m often acting in the role of teacher as the best self I wish I was, the best self I hope I can be for my students. I think I gave my student sound advice and a worthy challenge. And, in the modern sense of the word, I’m a total hypocrite as well because when do you think was the last time I picked up the phone to reach out to somebody I’ve worked with, or gone to school with, to let them know I value them, miss them, admire them? I bet you know the answer: I haven’t done such a thing in ages.
So, if you’re reading this, chances are you found this little blog post of mine because of social media, which is our 21st century way of simulating connections with others. While I don’t think our simulated connection is a bad thing at all, I’d like to use this simulation of relationship to say to you, dear reader, dear old School Friend, Co-Worker, Happenstance Acquaintance, I appreciate you. I miss you. And I hope we can find a way to hang out together in person someday soon after we’ve defeated this pandemic.