In a good way!
Well, I don’t know about anybody else, but I can safely say this is the best year-beginning I’ve had in a while.
I spent New Year’s Eve and much of New Year’s Day with a dear friend, walking around her neighborhood, meeting other friends of hers, counting lessons from the year past and hopes for the one ahead. She was once a college acquaintance who reached out when I got to Berlin, as she had been here some time already, and thence blossomed a friendship I grow more grateful for ever since. Proof enough of the smallness of the world.
Then on Monday, the world shrank as if I’d tossed it into the dryer (the what? we don’t have those here, there isn’t room) when an even earlier school friend and his girlfriend dropped into the city during their holiday travels through Germany. This friend and I had spent seven years in school together—since both our birthdays occur in the latter half of the calendar year, from the time we were nearly eleven to nearly eighteen. Not an uneventful era in young lives. And our paths hadn’t crossed in the nearly nine years following graduation.
I soon heard about the many places life had taken him in those intervening years (between him and his girlfriend, whose family moved around in her youth, they’ve been almost everywhere, like Cathy on The Patty Duke Show). We reminisced on our high-school music careers—we were both deeply involved in the group I mention here—and on the people we knew, some of whom we’ve kept in touch with and some of whom we haven’t. We exchanged book and TV and podcast recommendations. We talked about…poems and prayers and promises, and things that we believe in. And not work, because the cultural premium placed on work is too damn high!
We covered the city center pretty thoroughly, hitting all the spots on their list, several of which I hadn’t seen since first arriving myself. We stayed up late and drank wine and looked at one another on more than one occasion like, is this really happening?
The memory of those few days will, I expect, keep me warm throughout the whole of 2022. My guests made me out to be more useful than I probably was; I was happy just to see them and recoup even a small amount of lost time. Only the time wasn’t lost, because it gave us what we had to share: it seemed as though we were telling a single unending story, constantly segueing, a conversation that needed no steering.
They also managed, despite the shortness of the visit, to teach me a thing or two about the wider world. My friend’s girlfriend revealed herself to be the most knowledgeable amateur botanist I’ve ever met, and I mean amateur in the true, love-based sense of the word. It was a delight to witness her pointing out the plants we passed, and we didn’t even make it to the parks and forests and green spaces. As I’ve said, off-the-cuff TED talks about niche pastimes or interests number among my favorite things.
Something that struck me about this friend in particular was that, while we were privy to a swath of each other’s formative years, full of struggles with labels and expectations and shifting senses of self, he still did not make assumptions about the life I was living now. The questions he asked, the genuine thought behind his comments, let me know he entertained no preconceived notions about the adult I had become and how different or similar she was to the teenager I had been. I remember there always being this genuineness about him. After we parted ways the last night I deeply wished I could finagle for the two of them to stay longer, because I felt very safe and understood with them.
Over the course of our 36-hour conversation it hit me just how chaotic adolescence is. Not even our adolescences specifically, though of course we each had a unique set of things to juggle. But in general: how little control we have over our attentions, how our desires ping-pong from one person or perception to the next with hardly any prompting, how hyper-aware we are of others’ movements and responses. It takes distance, and often the reflection of another experience, to get perspective. I hope everyone has the chance to reconnect with someone and gain that perspective.
For my part, until I see these friends again, I have a host of local friends—who happen to hail from all over the world—to remind me repeatedly of my great good fortune. I have a lot of thanks to give for the past, present, and future.
The title of this post is what I said when I answered the door first thing Monday morning. You never know when life will send people (back) around to you. Receive them with joy when you can. Or, at the very least, point them in the direction of a good coffeeshop.
Dedicated to Ben, Lauren, and Anya. May 2022 bring you only the best.
Image: just some gate I took a picture of near our meeting point