Twists & Turns

I spent the morning wondering what I should blog about. I wanted to write, but the words wouldn't come.

One reason for that is I found out that an old family friend of ours is dying. Not only that, she's dying in a way that there are lessons to learn from. I could have written about that, and about those lessons, but my heart just wasn't in it. I'm sad that it came to this, I'm sad for her and her family, and for my family, as well. I keep thinking about her situation, and about my childhood, and then naturally about my own child.

It's strange to watch someone go from being an ordinary child to being an adult, to being an adult with problems. One can't help but wonder when a person's life went from being about getting good grades and fitting in with childhood peer groups to being about heavy adult struggles and the inability to cope.

When I was a certain age, pretty much the most important thing in the whole world was basketball. Any chance I could get to play basketball, I would. I'd call friends over, and we'd play for hours. We'd play at school. We'd play in athletic leagues. We'd play basketball. What ended all this was junior high team tryouts. Some of us made the team, and some of us didn't. Those who did stopped playing with those who didn't so that they could play with the school team. It's kind of a shame that such a thing would separate us, but I suppose it's only fair. With our basketball-playing group thus dismantled, no further getting together was quite as fun. Eventually the whole thing tapered off. We went our separate ways and got involved in other aspects of our lives.

This sort of thing played out in my own childhood many different times. In the early days, we all ran around together. Later, I got heavily involved in competitive running and spent that time by myself instead. Some of us used to get together and listen to music and jam on our guitars. Then some of us formed a band and the larger group dissolved. Those who weren't in the band stopped playing music and went back to what they were doing before - in this case, Dungeons & Dragons - while the bandmates experimented briefly with being cool. (Don't worry, it was short-lived.)

It's rare to experience a lifelong friendship. I don't have any close friends from when I was a little boy. I keep in touch with some people via social media, but we don't regularly interact. The progressive, lifelong process of becoming more specialized has a tendency to limit our interaction with a broader group. A diverse set of friends can come together, but by adulthood they usually need a common excuse to do it: a book club, a work group, a hobby, etc.

So, it's not that friends ever become less important, it's just that the natural progression of existence is to go from being surrounded by a community of friends to being surrounded mostly by your own family. I'm not at all sure that this is a bad thing.

But every now and then news comes in of an old friend passing away or a former neighbor getting into legal or other trouble, and from our own internal perspective, it's jarring. We weren't there to experience the transition, and so for us it comes out of nowhere. The girl who once had a crush on you passed away in a car accident. The neighbor down the street developed a drug problem. The student-body officer had financial trouble, and then a mental breakdown. The city league teammate you had developed cancer.

Thankfully, it sometimes works the other way, too. The cranky loner with a scowl on his face overcame his depression and raised a happy family. The aloof snob discovered her alternative lifestyle after high school and became open and welcoming of all people. The poor kid started his own business and got rich. The shy wallflower became a social worker and helped hundreds of people have better lives.

Well, that's life. We all play one of these roles. A major part of my blog's purpose has been to comment on the various paths that lead to ruin, and how to avoid them. Maintain a long-range cognitive time-horizon; leverage principles of individuality in the face of strong negative influence; learn effective communication strategies; don't willingly maintain any serious illusions about your life or your world; always learn, always grow, always feed your sense of self-improvement. We can make the world a better place by being better people.

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