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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Old friends reappearing in the era of COVID-19

Betty Firth
Posted 4/22/20

The phone rang one sheltered night, bringing a voice from the past across 27 years of silence. A friend I’ll call Sam was looking through old class reunion stuff, saw my name, and thought …

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Old friends reappearing in the era of COVID-19

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The phone rang one sheltered night, bringing a voice from the past across 27 years of silence. A friend I’ll call Sam was looking through old class reunion stuff, saw my name, and thought he’d see if he could reach me. If I’d made a list of 100 people I thought might contact me, his name would not have been on it. He was my ex-husband’s best friend in high school, and he met Pam, my bridesmaid and good friend, at our wedding. Later he married her, and the four of us hung out together, playing cards or board games and going to movies.
We talked and talked, telescoping our lifetimes into 60 minutes. They had three kids, and I’d only met the first one when he was small. Pam died from ALS two years ago. Sam later heard from a woman, Linda, he’d dated, loved and broken her heart when he called it off, feeling there were too many differences between their families, including religion, Methodist and Catholic. I don’t recall him as being a particularly religious person, but parental pressure can weigh heavily on the very young, and the two sets of parents did not like each other.
Sam remembered visiting us in Storm Lake, Iowa, shortly after our wedding. He recalled getting drunk, saying my ex had switched Sam’s drink from vodka to gin without saying anything because he didn’t have enough vodka for both of them. (There’s one tiny glimpse into why he’s my ex.) Sam remembered waking up naked on a blow-up mattress on the living room floor the next morning. I said I honestly didn’t remember that, and I wasn’t just sparing his feelings. The story had a faint edge of familiarity to it, but maybe I’d blanked it out so I could look him in the face after that. Or maybe I was hung over, too, and the brain cells that carried that memory wasted away and died.
Sam was an electrician, good with his hands; a nice guy, easy going, and not very talkative, seemingly a good match for my ex who would banter, but shied away from any personal subject. I don’t think Sam and I had ever talked for an hour, just the two of us, but the conversational stream ran full that night with him leading the way. Without any prompting, he told me that he and Pam never talked much or even saw each other until the end of day. They would have dinner, then go off to their separate spaces to do needlework, woodworking or other projects, coming together at bedtime. I thought that sounded like a consignment to a hellhole of emptiness, but there were the kids to fill in the spaces. I asked, “Was that OK for you?” He said, “Yeah, I guess,” and joyfully added, “but now with Linda, we talk about everything, and I really like that.” I responded, “Well, after all those years of being bottled up, you have a lot to say.”
He filled me in on what he knew of my ex’s story, but had last seen him 25 years earlier at my mother-in-law’s funeral. We compared memories of the wisecracking guy who ran from his feelings as if they were wild animals bent on destroying him. It surprised me to hear that Sam saw him the same way, but then, the way men relate to each other was and is an ongoing mystery to me.
I’ve heard that many people are reaching out more often to friends and relatives since COVID-19 began, and I was touched that Sam took the time to call. One friend told me that he feels closer to his family than he ever has in his life. I’ve also reached out to some people who have slid out from my view, and they have seemed happy to hear from me.
Why is this happening? Is it because we have more free time? Are we bored and trying to find ways to fill up the hours or some different people to talk to? Does the shadowing possibility of death, like a drumbeat in the background, compel us to make those connections before it’s too late?
A friend of mine is spending a lot of time outdoors, skiing, walking, and even biking on the lake, but even with all that time outdoors said she feels there’s something in the air, a difference that makes us all a little on edge. I thought maybe it’s like the uneasiness we feel when the wind blows for too long, wondering when it’s going to stop. While some folks have been productive, cleaning basements and closets, I’ve heard quite a few people say they haven’t been motivated to do much of anything in spite of all the projects they thought they’d dig into. I think our underpinnings have been dislodged; our usual structure cannot be counted on. One woman said, “I go from room to room, not sure what to do next.” Even for those with work or other routines still in place, the lingering possibility that more change will come hovers disconcertingly.
Years ago, during the classes I took to become an acupressure practitioner, we would always end with a meditation. On the last day of class, the instructor said to us, as we rested in the deep calm, “You can always return to this moment, this feeling of peace. If you center down, you can be right here again; not just a similar feeling, but actually bringing back this moment and living it again.” I have found that to be true when I take the time to do it.
The phone call with Sam felt like that. We telescoped our lifetimes into moments revisited, and the years disappeared. In spite of decades of silence, Sam reached out, trusting I’d be receptive to his news and his feelings. He concluded the call with, “We should talk more,” and I just might keep in touch, maybe.
I have been concerned for the people who are riddled with anxiety during this health crisis, not handling the fear and isolation well. I’d like them to know that there is peace at hand for all or us within our own beings, within our own memories. We can get quiet and dreamy or crank up the lively music and dance our hearts out. Sing a song that makes you cry, like many people did last Friday, singing “You’ve Got a Friend” (with MPR), out on porches, singing to neighbors, singing to the evening. Or sing a song that makes you laugh just to hear the joyful sound.

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