By Michael W. Gos
I like old things. That’s good because I’m no spring chicken myself. I love old furniture, old books and especially old cars. But most of all, I like old buildings. I once gave a lecture in an Oxford dining hall that was built in 1090 A.D. I can’t begin to tell you what a thrill that was. When I travel in Texas, I prefer historic hotels, but the ultimate thrill for me is to stay in a Civilian Conservation Corps building.
If you’ve ever been to a state or national park anywhere in the U.S. that opened prior to the 1940s, you’ve probably seen the work of the CCC. You can’t miss the style: gray limestone rocks stacked flat and a wood-shingled roof. Since they are generally located in the woods, each wall, building or stair set looks like it grew naturally out of the forest floor.
We were in Palisades, a tiny village of 325 people a few miles south of Amarillo and east of Canyon. The area was an early Texas state park located at the north end of Palo Duro canyon. It was later replaced by a much larger and better-located park a few miles to the south. The entire area of the old park then passed into private hands. The CCC building that used to be the park headquarters has been divided into two cabins and turned into a B&B that was our home for the next four days.
We were here to meet my best friend, Kevin and his wife, who came down from Indiana to join us for a few days in canyon country. I left Indiana 25 years ago this month and even though Kevin and I see each other only about once a year, we always pick up right where we left off without missing a beat. It is uncanny. When I first saw him drive up in his rental car, it was like we were together just yesterday.
A long time ago, a wise man explained to me that there are two kinds of friends you will have in your life, and it is important to know the difference. Now, I’m not talking about that absurd notion of “friend” pushed by Facebook (400 people you wouldn’t recognize if you saw them on the street). I’m talking about real world, flesh and blood human beings.
The first variety is “friends of the road.” These are people we meet and get close to because we share with them a portion of our lives. They are people we work with, know from a club, hobby or other social situation, or that we live near. These people are important to us because they share an important chunk of the journey of our lives. We share our thoughts, feelings and free time with them. In many cases, they provide the fun in our lives. In others, they are the only thing that gets us through the hard times.
The problem with friends in this category is, eventually we part ways. Someone changes jobs, drops a hobby or moves away. We stay in contact for a while, but over time, the relationship fades away. Even if we had been friends for years, the separation in space creates the inevitable result. That is not to say these friends are less important. Quite the contrary, they are indispensible. They make life worth living. But eventually, our roads do part.
The other group of friends, those “of the heart,” are different. While they always start out as friends of the road, somewhere along the way, something changes. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the change is and how it happens. I still haven’t figured it out completely, but I have some ideas.
At some point in the relationship, geography ceases to be a factor. It doesn’t matter if the two of you live next door to each other or a thousand miles apart. The connection switches from one of proximity to one of souls—not souls in a religious sense, but more like a matter of our essence.
We often hear the term “soul mate” used in reference to a romantic relationship. Some argue that two souls travel lifetime after lifetime together.
Others claim we each have only half a soul and our soul mate is the one whose half soul fits ours perfectly, forming one complete. I find this view a bit more reasonable but still not quite right. My problem with both notions is that they assume we all have but one soul mate. I know that can’t be right because I’ve had five: my wife, my best friend and over the last 40 years, three dogs. Each of them completed me.
I think the reason that removal in time and space doesn’t affect friends of the heart is because they are operating on a plane where time and space just don’t work the way they do in “normal” reality. Just as the DVD of a two-hour movie defies our idea of time and space because it holds every scene, every place and every second of the movie on that one disk at the one instant, friends of the heart transcend the traditional linear views of time and space as well. They just are.
When Kevin and I were discussing this, he added another, slightly different view of friends of the heart. It has to do with what he called “refrigerator rights.” The friend of the heart is someone who can, at any time, go into your refrigerator, look through it and take out anything he wants and no one thinks anything of it.
After some thought, I began to measure each of my “soul mates” against his rubric, starting with him. When he comes down here, he of course has full refrigerator rights. He also has free range of the wet bar and the liquor cabinet where I keep the good stuff. That may be even more important. He clearly passes the refrigerator test.
We’ve now been best friends for 37 years. For 25 of them, we’ve lived over a thousand miles apart. It hasn’t made a difference.
Like I said, I like old things—especially friends.