Old Friends…

Old friends sit on the park bench like bookends.

What a slog we’ve been through.

What an exhausting and scary experience Covid has been for all of us.

Worldwide more than 3.2 million people have died from the virus and that number is likely an undercount. We have lost almost 600,000 Americans and despite a light at the end of the tunnel we are not out of the woods yet… but we can see the light that leads to normal.

Still, I don’t see us ever forgetting this experience. The pandemic has changed us—I’m hoping for the better.

Lately, I have been having some “Covid dreams”—it’s a phenomenon that I have read a few articles about. Some therapists call it a form of PTSD, others say it is how we humans process what we’ve been through. I don’t know what to call it, but for me the dreams are vivid and frequent.

I’m often trapped in a room, or a box with blank walls. In my dreams, I call out but no one hears me. I’m alone.

The other day, I  dreamt I was in a room filling with water chasing after a piece of paper. I’m not sure what the paper represents or what was on it but I just couldn’t get it. When I would get close, it would slosh away on a wave.

Like I mentioned before, I’m not alone in the crazy dream business.

A change in dreams due to a crisis is very common, says Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. When we’re in a dream state, the brain is processing the same things we think about during the day. But when we’re asleep, the parts of our brain that handle logic and speech are damped down. The parts that handle visuals, however, are ramped up.

 

Barrett has been collecting dreams from people all over the world since the start of the pandemic. She says common dream themes range from actually getting the virus to natural disasters and bug attacks. Healthcare workers have regularly reported the highest level of stressful COVID-19 dreams, according to her data.

 

“The typical dream from the healthcare workers is really a full-on nightmare,” Barrett told “Science Friday” recently. “Just as bad as you’d see in war zones.”

Barrett has a new book out called “Pandemic Dreams.” I read a few excerpts online and some of the dreams she shares are jarring.

I have a feeling we will be dealing with the psychological, physical, economic and emotional side effects of this pandemic for the foreseeable future. If you are someone struggling, please know you are not alone and it’s OK to reach out for help.

If I may, here’s what has worked for me.

A dash of music, a dollop of comedy and a big heaping serving of family and friends.

For me, it’s just that simple.

Music is a tonic, comedy is medicine and friends and family are good for the soul.

Admittedly, it sounds trite and simple and in the Covid era, its been hard to see people in person.  But that’s changing.  If we’re vaccinated, it’s safe for us to get out and “see the world.” (Great song by Brett Dennen by the way).

Luckily, thanks to medical science, things are opening up quite a bit and thankfully technology has been there to fill in some gaps.

Readers of this blog know that I have a group of childhood friends who gather via Zoom every other week to reminisce about the glory days, joke around and talk about the issue du jour.

These calls have been a lifeline for all of us during this strange time.

I’ve known some of these guys for 50 years—we went through school together, knew each other’s parents and grandparents, our siblings, childhood homes, first cars, first girlfriends, favorite teachers etc.

We played ball together, went to each other’s Bar Mitzvahs and weddings and were there through the good times and the bad. And there’s been plenty of both. That’s just the way it goes.

Every one of us has had a pretty nice life—we enjoy the love of good women, have great kids and tons of life experience. But we’ve had our struggles too—career crises, financial highs and lows and health challenges too.

But through it all– through the decades, the distance and the din of life—we’ve managed to stay together or find each other again and again.

We used to see each other every single day and that is where the bonds were forged—in school, at a summer pool club, on long summer nights spent driving to nowhere special. It was enough in those days just to be together and as a result develop a shorthand that in our case has lasted a lifetime.

Over the summer, when I thought Covid would mark the end of my story, I thought about these guys and some of my newer friends that I’ve also grown very close too. I thought how friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts and how I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and how sad it was for those who tragically couldn’t beat this damn virus.

When we pass, a whole world dies with us—but some of that world lives on in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind.

Still, as  I reflect back on the year or so of Covid, I can’t help but also think about the positives.

I’ve been surrounded by love, concern and friendship. My wife and I have grown closer, I feel closer to my children, my sister, in-laws and my dad and his wonderful girlfriend. What a gift.

What an amazing gift we’ve been given—another day.

And then there’s the friendships. The new ones and the old ones.

That every other week Zoom call is a real highlight—a precious gift because it connects me to a group of guys who are my brothers. We fill the gaps in each other’s memories, support each other in our current ventures and know that we will always be there for each other. We also laugh. A lot. Its been good for the soul.

I have a great set of local friends too—and I really wish there was a way these groups could meet because I know they would hit it off instantly.

Maybe someday they will—like the old Simon & Garfunkel song “Bookends”—on some park bench somewhere.

Someday….

Until then, the old friends plan to meet via Zoom and my local buddies will gather at some of our favorite watering holes. Now that we are vaccinated we are beginning to feel safer.

Meanwhile, we have been forever influenced by our pandemic experience.

The other week, after another particularly vivid dream, I woke up with a phrase on my mind: “love is the prize.” Four simple words—corny I know.

But I’ve been thinking about those words a lot.

We live in an area that has great wealth and great poverty. In Delray, where I live, we are America in 16 square miles. In Boca, where I work, I see a whole lot of bling and pristine beauty. We live in paradise—we truly do.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the craziness. I do all the time—until I’m grounded by a friend, a circumstance, my lovely wife or a situation at work and then I realize that love is the prize. I never had the words until that dream. Now I do.

Love is the prize.

I’ve found it.

I hope you do too.

Old Friends

Scott, Ben and yours truly.

My old friend, I apologize

For the years that have passed

Since the last time you and I

Dusted off those memories

The running and the races

The people and the places

There was always somewhere else I had to be

And time gets thin, my old friend

Don’t know why…Tim McGraw, My Old Friend

 

There’s something comforting about old friends.

Something so easy that within moments of seeing them you pick up where you left off regardless of the time and the miles, the running and the races, the people and the places.

My childhood friend Ben was in town last week, passing through on his way to see his father in Port St. Lucie. So I rang up Scott–another old friend—and we found a cozy bar in Boca to reconnect. It took about 30 seconds and we were lost in laughs and good conversation.

We will all be 55 this year.

Ben and Scott go back to the third grade. I met Ben in junior high and I’ve known Scott since I was 8 or 9.

That’s a long, long time.

We’ve covered a lot of miles in life—a lot together (school, first loves, neighborhoods, first cars, road trips, youthful adventures) and a whole lot apart.

Frankly, the last thirty years were a blur for all of us.

Marriage, kids, careers, businesses, travel—deadlines and commitments as Bob Seger sings —what to leave in, what to leave out.

And then one day you’re 54 and you walk into a bar to meet two of the best friends you’ve ever had or ever will have and time melts away instantly.

Ben still has his boyish face and Scott still has the sense of a humor of a 12 year-old so the years seem to dissolve as if by magic.

We didn’t talk about the glory days (oh, maybe a little) but we do talk easily about our lives today and our hopes for the future. There’s always a lot to catch up on because we don’t see each other like we used to. We used to spend every single day together, but those days are long past.

Still,  there may be even more to talk about now because when we ran together as kids I knew everything about these guys—where they had travelled, what they were thinking (girls, cars, sports, music that was pretty much it) and what was happening in school.

But these days, they are full of mystery to me. They’ve been lots of places, seen lots of things and when we talk I hang on every word because it’s fresh, it’s interesting and I really, really care for these guys.

I didn’t have brothers growing up —so they are it. Something beyond friends.

I know that regardless of where life takes us—Park City, Utah, Red Bank, N.J. Raleigh, Asheville, Coral Springs or to Mr. W’s house in Port St. Lucie—there will always be a reunion. If life were a cruise with various ports of call, these guys and a few others would be my muster station. We will find a way to stay in touch and if emergencies strike we will surely be there for each other.

We can talk in a comfortable shorthand of sorts, because when these guys talk about their parents and siblings or I talk about mine, I have a picture in my mind. I know all of these people.

Same with our other friends.

We are well aware that we have been given a gift—each other’s friendship. We appreciate it, we enjoy it and we are grateful for the laughs, the talks and the experiences that we did share.

I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. Lost a few too and that can rattle a guy because I certainly wasn’t used to that.

But these guys…well let’s just say I know that they will always be there.

And for that I am eternally grateful.