When I was about eight years old, roughly 1984, a man showed up unannounced at our front door. My father, after greeting and hugging him, explained that he was an old friend from Wisconsin who was in town on business, and wanted to take us to dinner. I was in the third grade and my best friend Adam and I had been friends for a couple years. At that age, I'd never experienced growing apart from someone, never experienced no longer being friends with someone you once had a friendship with. So when my father tried to explain that he and this man weren't quite as close as they had been when we lived in Wisconsin, it was tough for me to grasp. "Why don't you just write letters?", I remember asking. I'm sure his answer sounded something like "it's just not that simple, kiddo."
Then and there, I vowed I was never going to let any friends get away like that. My friends would ALWAYS be my friends, and we would never needlessly grow apart or lose touch. If only the world worked that way, right? What do you want, I was eight.
Fast forward to me being 19 years old. It was 1995. I had switched schools a couple times, but I eventually came full circle back to the public school system I started out in. Adam and I had drifted closer and further apart but had never lost touch, and we became pretty close again through high school. So far I had done a pretty good job of keeping my good friends close and staying in touch. But that year, Adam went away to college, and I didn't. Naturally we were both very busy and quickly grew very far apart. We would see each other occasionally, over holidays and such. We hadn't lost touch, but it was headed that way quickly. We were living very different lives and as time passed, we had less and less in common. This was my first real experience with this and I have to be honest, I had a really hard time with it. I could see that in just another year or two, we would likely grow apart and lose touch completely, just as had happened with some of my less close friends from middle school and childhood. This was Adam though. This was a guy I had now been friends with for 13 years, and this was the very guy I had in mind when I made myself the promise not to lose touch with my friends.
But distance makes it hard, and diverging interests make it even harder. It was fortuitous that the next year was when the Internet came along and really started to become mainstream. The Internet saved that friendship. The ability to easily e-mail, and later chat (when that technology matured), allowed us to easily keep in touch across the distance. I was saved! The Internet was going to enable me to continue keeping that promise to myself never to lose friends unnecessarily.
Yes, even at the age of 20, I still had not really learned about how life works with regard to that. I went to school and church with mostly the same set of kids from the time I started going up until about that age, 18 or so, and had managed to keep in touch with most of the ones I cared about over those next couple years. It has been the years since then that have showed me just how fluid life is, and how easily and frequently your group of friends can change. Since graduating high school I've averaged a new chapter in my life about every two years or so, and with each new chapter comes a whole new group of people. I've been able to keep in touch with most of the ones that I care about, but the sheer number of people from my past who I've friended on MySpace or FaceBook who I've had absolutely nothing to say to beyond the initial "hey, I remember you" conversation is a pretty stark indication that no matter how badly I wished to the contrary as a child, my dad was right. It just ain't that simple, kiddo. People really do fade out of your life. People change, they grow apart, they move on. It's a part of life.
And having a late wife who passed from cancer a couple years ago I feel qualifies me fairly well to speak on the subject of people moving out of your life, sometimes no matter how tightly you try to hold them close.
I guess I just wanted to share my personal story of how I learned the lesson to enjoy the people you love while they are near. You never know when it might be the last time you're all together. It doesn't have to be tragic, it's just the way life works, so enjoy it. Don't overthink it (like I'm totally doing right now). Just cherish it. People will go, others will come to fill those spaces in your lives, but enjoy the times you get to have, and don't forget those people. Not very many people in your life will be with you over the course of many years, through thick and thin, through geographical, professional, and personal changes. Cherish those people most of all, but love your friends too while you've got 'em. I do. And yes, although not frequently, Adam and I do still talk, and still see each other once in a while, which is pretty cool.