Friends, Old and New

It was recently my pleasure to receive a visit from one of my oldest friends from my musical theater days. Saskia and I first met when we were cast in the original German production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat in 1996—23 years ago. I was 23 years old at the time, she was 25. For the next two years we were dressing room mates and eating buddies (I once joked that had she refused to try sushi, that would have been a dealbreaker for the friendship), along with a handful of other foodies in the cast. 

As the years passed and subsequent jobs took us to other cities, and sometimes, other countries, we managed to maintain the friendship via snail mail and phone cards that allowed us to gab for hours for just a few euros (pre-Internet and pre-Skype!). After I moved back to the Philippines permanently in December 2003, our correspondence was sporadic at best, but we were delighted to discover that time and distance seemed to have no effect on our friendship. I visited her in Holland in 2006, 2012 and 2017. We never needed time to “warm up”. The love we held for each other was constant, the rapport immediate. 

In 2019, Saskia and her husband Addo were able to book a trip to the Philippines (their first visit to Asia), a dream come true for them and for us as well. As we explored Baguio together, and spent five days in Coron, Palawan, I couldn’t help but notice how the years had changed us. Sure, there were the obvious physical changes—the gray hair, the extra pounds, a few more laugh lines (and in my case, eye bags that no amount of concealer can hide). But also, there were the changes that only life experiences and maturity could bring: the love we had for our children, who are in various stages of development; growing into our second careers after leaving the musical theater merry-go-round; the confidence that comes from finally owning ourselves, the aftermath of having the courage to look into our inner selves and choosing (sometimes, kicking and screaming) the healthier way of being.

What hasn’t changed, which is the basis of a long and happy friendship: unconditional love and acceptance of one another.

I have made some new friends in recent years, and these relationships are based on love and acceptance too and are to be just as cherished and nurtured. My new friends see a honed version of my self, wholesome, responsible, maybe with a few nuggets of wisdom to share.

What differentiates childhood friendships from the relatively recent ones is the fact that these significant others in the former have known you in all your immature, foolhardy, and harebrained glory. You survived the insecurities of youth together, and the experimentation that comes with needing to experience “the world” that punctuates the teenage years and lasts well into the 20s. You’ve nursed each other through breakups, marital and financial ups and downs, divorce, grief, depression. You’ve also shared the victories, the earning of second degrees and masters degrees, the conception and births of children, the unexpected contentment when you realize you’re grateful with what you are blessed to have and to hold in this life. 

While sipping our ripe mango shakes under the equatorial sun, I felt myself in a grip of an emotion I still have no words for. I realized that I had seen my friends grow up, that we have grown up together. I remembered how we were in the pink of youth, in the swell of youth’s passions. Now, as we ride the wave of middle age together, our love runs deeper for it has withstood the test of time. Our long bouts of laughter bubble up more frequently for we see more astutely the absurdity of life. Life can also be quite punishing, but the company of good friends is a consolation, a balm that, in the end, shows us the essence, the crux of this human life. 

Nostalgia, love, tenderness, affection, laughter, all rolled into one. I think the most accurate word I can find to describe this feeling is gratitude, for having the company of friends who love you for all that you are with a commitment you are not always sure you deserve, is truly a blessing.