the friendship train

I really didn’t think it would happen this way.

I thought that I would start making friends in high school, then make some new friends in college, then more  new friends in my 20s, then add some of the parents of my kids’ friends, and finally some folks from work and church. I also thought that somehow they would all like each other, stay in town (wherever I happened to be), share the same interests, faith, and keep the same personality that they had when we first struck up our friendship.

Now I really wasn’t conscious of that, but it was my unnamed, intuitive working assumption.  And then I lost a friend.  It wasn’t a big break up.  It was a slow drift.  She married someone that I kind of liked, grew fond of, but never deeply connected with.  We ended up going to different churches.  What once was a monthly dinner moved to twice a year and then just stopped altogether.

What happened?

Do you have those friendships that used to be close and aren’t anymore?  With some you can clearly point to the issues, or to a move, or to different churches, or to your kids not getting along.  But some just happen.

Maybe you saw the decline and tried, but the connection didn’t rekindle?  Maybe you felt like the next move was theirs, and by the time you realized they weren’t moving, the drift had gone too far.

But friendships change.  Some grow deeper and more intimate.  Some are built on shared history that sustains a certain safety or closeness.  Some move from being really close to enjoyable acquaintances.  Some just disappear and you’re not sure what happened.  But they do change.

I was talking recently with a bunch of retired guys about friendships.  Interestingly, all of us were pondering how we could go deeper.  Sometimes the deeper was with present friends. Sometimes it entailed reconnecting with old friends from college or ministry days.  But, in our 70s, we are still longing for more, wanting both fun and depth, and still brainstorming next steps.  Did we do something wrong along the way, that we find ourselves still searching?

One wise friend shared an illustration that has brought a simple clarity (though by no means all of the answers).  He is the oldest guy in the group.  Here’s what he shared:

Life is a train trip.  At each stop along the way, some new friends get on.  And some old friends get off.  Sometimes they jump back on at a later stop.  But the people in our train car often change.  Fortunately, not  all of them.   Some just move further away in the car.  But some are getting on and some are getting off.  And that actually provides some of the richness in life.

As I transition into retirement, I have made a bunch of new friends.  I almost feel like I am too old to have new friends.  But the discovery process has been energizing and fun.  I don’t know where those friendships will go.  But I do know that my train will stop at some point and some will get off.  And some will get (back?) on.

For me, this illustration has given me some freedom to enjoy the ride.  I still find myself wondering where I should try harder or why I am trying so hard.  But it’s just part of the ride.  But I do believe that God is in it, at every stop.


Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.

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