Allow me to be sentimental. I guess it comes with age. Or goes with it. Nothing ... absolutely nothing ... is comparable to old friends.
It is easy to claim you have many friends. Blame social networks. If I add up the grand total of all my friends in Facebook, Twitter, Friendster and MySpace, I guess I can be elected president of one small nation. It is easy to say you have friends ... or claim that you are a friend of a certain whoever. That is because the term has been used all too loosely ...even carelessly.
It is easy to get somebody's name, hand phone number, email address ... but not that simple to know anyone beyond what is obvious, apparent and provided as convenient information. Friendship goes beyond swapping digits. Or even knowing one's favorite color or song or day of the week or sexual predilection. Friendship is far deeper than that.
That is why I am feeling extraordinarily sentimental.
Today was spent out of town to celebrate the birthday of one of my closest friends.
We met when we were in the fifth grade. Now we are in our mid-fifties ... and we are still friends. We have known each other most of our lives. We have lived through the decades of the late sixties, the crazy seventies, the egocentric eighties, the numbing nineties ... down to the first ten years of the new millennium. He has seen me grow thin and fat and thin then fat only to get thin again. He has known me at the time I still had a hairline, could boogie all night and make a fool of myself under the influence of alcohol.
We have known each other at the best and worst of times. That is why I guess ... more than the years we have spent together ... we consider ourselves true friends.
Today was an extraordinarily wonderful day. I, together with two other friends, traveled to San Pablo to join so many other old friends to celebrate a birthday. There are circumstances sad ... even trying ... for all of us to surrender our Sundays for an out of town get together but that does not really matter. Maybe that is all that matters.
We know our friend is not well.
He makes no big deal out of it. We have known about his condition for the past year and a half or so. We have all dedicated so much prayer ... and thought ... and experienced so much agony knowing that we can only do so much for him. Except wish for the best. Maybe ask God, the Universe, Whoever ... to be kind, gentle and compassionate to our friend.
Among ourselves, we talk about his condition in whispers. We never confront him to ask the real score, how he really is ... and what are the prospects. We know he is undergoing stem cell treatment and chemotherapy. And we treasure each opportunity to be together ... taking into account the more than four decades we have spent together.
And I am in awe. We are all in awe. I have known him all my life yet when I see him now, when I experience how he is handling his most volatile situation, I realize that I barely know him at all. Yet he is one of my closest friends.
He is fighting his battle with courage. More than that, he is going through this fight with a positive attitude. A sparkling positive attitude. He is not about to wait and mope and feel sorry for himself. He is going there kicking and fighting ... while making himself useful for every day that is given to him, made even more precious and important. We do not know the pain he goes through but he will not and will never thrive on that.
He does not want us to feel sorry for him. He wants us to fight his battle by supporting him in his pursuits --- of doing things he has always wanted to do and to show to the world that such battles can be fought --- whether at a loss or with the sweetness of victory.
I never realized he was capable of such courage. I never saw that before mainly because time provides the tests that give us greater insight into those who fill our lives.
I have never seen him so determined to savor his life. He once told me that all other problems seem trivial when compared to what he is going through. But one must not waste each day thinking of what could have been instead of fighting for what could yet be.
My friends know me better than any single member of my family. Maybe that is because I have trusted my friends to know me better than anyone with the coincidence of blood ties. And I do not feel any regret. I do not feel any sense of loss. I have my friends.
That is why I draw my strength from friends ... old friends who define my years and who I know will be there right to the very end. It is beautiful to think of things like these, despite aberrations that can bring pain. It is beautiful to have Sundays out of town with old friends, reminiscing and yet cherishing each moment as if it were as fresh as the day that the memories were made.
Life is a string of moments. And I have come to realize that the knots that bind the days together are the people called your friends who bring a sense of completeness to your days ... your weeks ... your months. Your years. Your life.