“Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.”
I could picture Athenaeus time-traveling from third century Egypt to our firepit in northwest Wisconsin. He would have enjoyed old friends sitting around a dancing flame, glass in hand, and talking about books we had read for the event.
The event was a three-day gathering of 12 guys who lived together in a dorm more than 50 years ago when we all still had our hair and our lofty dreams.
The hair has thinned and most of those dreams replaced by others, but the grace that brought us together has never ebbed.
We were a diverse group studying physics, engineering, business, and some non-remunerative disciplines like English. Yet there was some gravitational attraction that led us to eat meals together, go out together and endlessly visit together.
After graduation, we went our separate ways to jobs and grad schools. We stayed in touch, attended each other’s weddings, and visited when travel took us close.
Kids and work whittled away at the time we had for one another, but never weakened our ties. Every five years, we gathered at our class reunion, and conversations easily resumed from where they had last left off.
For us, the COVID virus had a thin outline in silver. In March of last year, we began meeting virtually each week.
At first, it was random conversation that filled the hour and a half, but then we decided to invite expert guests to join us in discussions of pandemic healthcare, racism and poverty.
By the time we met in Wisconsin, you’d think we would have exhausted our memories and covered all the topics of talk, but a lull never made the agenda.
Whether it was early coffee, a morning walk, lazing on the lake in the afternoon, or watching the sun set and the moon brighten, these men and their spouses used every moment to explore and appreciate one another.
Looking back on that reunion and all the years that created it, I am almost ashamed of the bounty I have received from this group.
It is not just that despite knowing me for over 50 years, they still love me.
They have always been sacraments in the word, conduits of God’s steadfast care, forgiveness and healing.
I have learned so much from them, but perhaps the most important is to cherish friends while they are still with us.