EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY: I’ll be there for you

Virginia Buckingham
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A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.” 

The popular sitcom “Friends” with the catchy theme song and lovable characters lasted so long, in re-runs anyway, that it became a favorite of a whole other generation than its original audience. There’s something about the lure of that time in life when you’re sort-of-an-adult and friends are the sun, the moon and the stars of your universe. That is particularly true when you live with them, in college and after.

I lived with my college roommates for several years after graduating, and venturing out to the work world by day while still coming home to the kind of hours-long walks and talks at night that intense friendships offer was a gift.

Each season of life so far has seemed to bear its own fruit of new friends — “friends of the road” and “friends of the heart.”  Coincidentally, these were definitions I first heard in a talk given by my college roommate in the waning days of senior year.

By friends of the road, I mean those connections you make standing at the sidelines of soccer games or outside at school pick-up. Grabbing lunch in the office cafeteria. Chatting about college searches while waiting for a Zoom to start. Lamenting your teenagers’ eye-rolls.

The conversation is friendly. You care about each other’s lives, kids, careers. You help each other out with rides, compare notes on teachers, stats on admissions, advice on promotions. You probably socialize.

Until one day, kids have grown and gone, you’ve moved on to a new job or new city, and just a handful of those earlier connections remain a part of your life.

Some, though, become “friends of the heart.” They strike some chord in your soul. With them, you continue to go deeper. They know your vulnerabilities, you know theirs. You tell more, they share more. Sometimes, you cry. All the time, you laugh. 

One positive of Facebook is that it supports connection with friends who blur this divide of road and heart. The opportunity to keep in touch with, if not just tabs on, friends from a past work life, old neighborhood or from childhood is so fun, and sometimes, so heartbreaking.

Just last week in a Facebook group of my graduating class, I learned of the sudden death of one of my closest high school friends. Our lives had taken such different paths, we didn’t keep in touch for nearly 40 years. Yet I loved her. Deeply. At one time, she knew me and I knew her as well as we knew ourselves. She was funny and smart and fiercely loyal. Nora was a friend of the heart.

Until recently, I had been under the misimpression that at some point in middle age you stop making friends of the heart. You just double down on the ones you have, nurturing them through formal reunions, weekend trips away, “wine dates” over the phone.

Turns out, I was wrong. 

Since I’ve reached my fifties, friends of the heart have entered my life in abundance. 

Advice on making new friends later in life echoes my lived experience. The more I involved myself in ventures that sparked my interest — whether a leadership program, a spiritual retreat, a writing group, a non-profit — the more I found “my people.”

The process of getting to know these friends almost seems like reverse engineering. Instead of catching an old friend up on your life, you take new friends of the heart back in time to let them know about key moments they missed, key people you wished they had known, like departed parents. 

Sometimes life seems like “you’re always stuck in second gear, when it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month or even your year.”

It’s a total surprise and delight that the next line from the Friends’ theme song — “I’ll be there for you”— grows ever broader and deeper, the identities of “I’ll” a bounty expanding with time.

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