Catching up with old friends

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Patrick, in Berkeley, where we got our undergrad degrees at the same time (in the same department) without knowing each other. I hadn’t seen him for probably a year. He gets more handsome every time we meet! We had an enjoyable Japanese bento lunch and walked back up to campus together. I got to see his cubicle in the Regional Oral History Office, and he showed me the gorgeous new rotunda of the Bancroft Library. I have so many fond memories of that place before the retrofit, and it looks even more imposing now, though I miss the dusty old-school look just a little.

Patrick and I spent about an hour and a half together, catching up on our recent activities and looking forward to his September wedding. After we parted I thought how curious it always is to see old friends. I find that no matter how much time one spends with the other person, it still feels so impossible to really understand his life, the way one knows the day-to-day activities of the people one sees more regularly. Whenever I’m playing catch-up with old friends we talk ostensibly about our lives, but I never really feel I get it until I have a moment to digest what I’ve heard — usually while I’m in the restroom, away from anyone else — and think of questions to ask, to fill in the spaces of things unsaid. I didn’t just notice this with Patrick yesterday, but with old high school friends at Jennifer’s wedding a few weeks ago, and at other such events. People tell me “I’ve started working at a startup” or “we live in New York now” or “last month we took the baby to see my parents,” but somehow that’s not enough. I don’t know whether anyone else feels this too. I always want to know more deeply. I want to know, “what motivates you these days?” or “what exhilarates you?” or “what do you worry about when you lie awake at 3 am — or do you?” But these aren’t questions one can find out by asking directly. These are the things one only knows after spending time with someone day in and day out, during late nights and early mornings, lazy afternoons and splendid all-day outings.

And yet… badly as I want to know these things about my old friends, somehow it’s all right not to know, to just see them and hug them and chat a little while in a booth at a restaurant. To see with my own eyes how beautiful and accomplished and grown-up they are, and to see the person I knew before, still there within them.