After 5 years apart, these very different friends learned how similar their spiritual lives had become.
Posted in , Aug 26, 2016
Assistant Editor Dan Hoffman discovered an uncanny connection with a long lost friend (not pictured above)
Have you ever lost touch with a good friend and wondered why you went your separate ways? Or maybe you don’t even think about that friend anymore? Well, last weekend I reconnected with my old friend Chuck*—and the experience convinced me that an old friend’s journey can provide some perspective on our own.
Chuck and I met when we were twenty, while studying abroad together in Europe. We quickly bonded over our shared interests in writing and cinema, but lost touch once we returned to the States to our respective schools. I made some attempts to write him, getting short responses or nothing at all. Two years after we last saw each other, he visited New York and we met up and reminisced, but there was an undercurrent of sadness and anxiety to the visit. We hadn’t yet made any sense of our lives after college.
After that visit, I didn’t hear from Chuck for another five years, during which time I left New York and lived in two different American cities, moved to France twice, both to teach and earn a graduate degree, and finally resettled in New York and started working for Mysterious Ways. What seemed like a lifetime for me passed in those five years. Chuck drifted to the back of my mind.
Then, a month ago, working on a short story about a trip I took in France while I was a teacher, I thought of Chuck--probably because we did travel together a few times when we were study-abroad students. In writing about my time in France, I’d come to realize that in many ways it was the beginning of my spiritual journey. I’ve blogged about before about how I regularly meditate now, but I’d forgotten that it was Chuck, so long ago, who told me that he meditated and encouraged me to try it, although back then, I didn’t take to it.
Once I’d published my story on the origins of my spiritual life, I sent it to Chuck on a whim, not knowing if his email was even the same. Hey, I don’t know why, but this story I wrote made me think of you. Hope you’re well, I wrote. Not only did he reply, he announced that he was coming to New York, and asked if we could have lunch. Naturally I said yes – I wanted to know what had happened to this mysterious friend during the last five years. So for a few hours last weekend, we caught up.
What most amazed me about our conversation was that this friend, who years ago planted the smallest seed in me, had had his own renewal of sorts. For the first few years out of college, Chuck told me, he’d developed a really bad drinking problem. Finally, after spiraling out of control and alienating a lot of his friends, he got involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. He was, in fact, in New York to apologize to a number of people there for his past behavior.
While Chuck had escaped into drinking, I had escaped literally in my restless wandering between countries and cities, always seeking something but never finding it. When he was quitting drinking, my own spiritual journey was beginning. At that time, lonely and bored in small town France, I was forced to see that I could find peace within myself, indeed that peace wasn’t something to be found at all, but cultivated from within. I began doing a version of meditation, and when I came back to the states I joined a group.
Chuck, after starting AA, got back in touch with his Catholic faith and simultaneously invested himself more deeply into meditation, also joining a weekly group. We’d been reading many of the same authors, like Thomas Merton, Thich Nahn Hahn, and Alan Watts. It was as if in those five years of separation, we’d both in our separate ways learned the same language, and now we were getting a chance to speak it to one another.
The affinity between Chuck and me astounded me. We’d somehow grown closer over those years even though we’d had no contact at all. I left that lunch feeling lighter, renewed, and with new faith that I’m on the right path.
Perhaps there’s an old friend who you’re meant to learn more from and to grow closer to. Maybe it’s not too late to reach out and reconnect. Who are you going to get in touch with? What do you want to find out? You never know the new things an old friend might teach you.
*This blog post was written with the permission of Chuck, and his name and other details were changed to protect his anonymity.