Last night, I had a farewell dinner. This being my last week in NYC before I depart for the Left Coast, some of my friends and I got together to break bread and raise glasses.
I’ve known them each for about 15 years. And in that time we’ve been through high school and college and new jobs. We’ve been through deaths in families and big moves, and recent engagements. We have, both individually and as a unit, grown from adolescence to manhood. Together.
These men, my friends, have been there for the biggest changes in my life. They knew me when I was a chubby kid, and then when I was a ripped guy—and everything that’s come after. They were there when I started my blog and laid the cornerstone of what has become my little Empire.
And I’m going to miss them.
Our friendship certainly won’t fade simply because I’m leaving; I have no fear of that. And yet, there is a bit of preemptive nostalgia knowing that these men, who have always been like brothers, will no longer be a train or cab ride away.
Which is all the more strange, because although we’re all in close proximity to one another, we don’t see each other very often.
As if echoing my thoughts, in the cab on the way to dinner, my friend and roommate Ross made a comment: “funny that it takes you moving across the country for all of us to get together.”
There’s truth there.
Sitting at dinner last night, these thoughts would flit through my head.
I thought about the years growing up on Long Island, and how we lived about 7 minutes from each other.
I thought about working as camp counselors, and spending hours upon hours a day—every day—together.
I thought finishing a day at camp and heading to the gym for for 3 hours of training as a group, more than half of which was just talking and laughing and bullshitting.
And then flexing, because yes:
I thought about the nights spent fully in the throes of youth—the weekends in Atlantic City and bad beat stories. The nights spent chasing women and fun and memories.
I thought about all the time we spent together, and then followed the trail of memories to the point that started to change.
And changed it has.
“i went by
the place where you and i
wrote our names in wet cement
and for a moment remembered how it felt
to have no one understand
that that’s this dream
and they’re not part of it”
fast times at dropout high
Although we all live in the same city, we don’t see each other quite as much as perhaps we’d like. There are jobs and businesses and travel and relationships that require attention.
Not a man among us begrudges the others their responsibilities or the time they take, though we do wish we could see more of each other.
Which made me think again of when we actually could, and did.
In those halcyon days of our misspent youth, we spent more time together and built more memories than anyone could ever hope to.
It was a special period of our lives; a moment frozen in time, unique to the circumstances of late adolescence and early adulthood, circumstances that changed as time continued its steady march.
And I miss it. I don’t know if missing it makes me feel sad, but it does make me feel something.
Part of that something is regret. Not regret for time spent, or for the changing of our lives—regret for my complete and abject failure to appreciate the beauty of that time while I was living it.
They say that youth is wasted on the young, and there is truth to that. But I think it’s also true that so few of us have a full understanding of the tenuous hold we have on any given moment of our lives.
Because we don’t appreciate the complete impermanence of our situation, we often fail to appreciate the situation itself. Until it’s over, that is.
I can’t speak for my friends, but not once during our early and mid-twenties did I step back and say, “wow—this is pretty amazing.”
And it was. It really was amazing that somehow, life delivered me a group of incredible young men, the best friends anyone could ever ask for. More amazing than that is the unfathomable reality that for the better part of a decade, we had complete access to one another.
We saw each other all the time—because in a way, we were each other’s main priority.
Sure, we had girlfriends, and jobs and obligations. But those things were temporary, and we knew it. Those girlfriends weren’t likely to become wives, the jobs not likely to become careers.
But we few, we happy few, we band of brothers—we were permanent. Our friendships were solidity and stability.
My friends were the ballast that helped me keep my footing when the rest of life was an ever-changing landscape.
We are now, to a man, 30. Most of us are in serious relationships that require time and energy. All of us have careers that require the same. As yet, we none of us has figured out how to have more hours added to the day, and so being constrained somewhat by the limitations of our humanity, we’ve had to make some changes.
I spend much less time with my friends these days. But I do get to see them. Although the days of, hey, I’m bored, wanna come over and play video games? are over, we have over the past few years managed to get together for dinner on each other’s birthdays, and occasionally even see a Superhero movie on opening weekend.
Now, with my imminent departure, that will change. We will see each other during visits that have been planned months in advance. We’ll see each other at life events. We’ll see each other at bachelor parties and weddings—three of each in the next six months.
When the time comes for it, we’ll see each for the births of each others kids. We will be there for funerals. The big stuff is there. The little stuff, and the in-between stuff—some of the best stuff—will, of necessity, change.
The bonds of friendship are as strong as they ever were, but I would be lying if I said that the changes in our interactions have gone unnoticed, or that I don’t feel the impending weight of those that are to come.
I face these with a calm equanimity bolstered by the surety of our friendships. One does realize, both psychologically and emotionally, that these changes are neither good nor bad; they’re simply part of life. But they do seem jarring when you contrast two different sets of circumstances on either side of that 10-12 year gap.
All this and more swam in my head as we sat at dinner, and I’m willing to admit that some was probably fueled by bourbon. I don’t know if anyone else felt what I was feeling. What I do know is that last night, we laughed as we ate and drank, laughed more than I have in a long while. We cracked inside jokes and told stories—many of them the same stories we’ve been telling for years.
We were, for a moment, once again in the full flower of youth, feeling for all the world like this night, this moment, is how it is and always will be. In that moment, I forced myself to step back and look at it and drink it in. I forced myself to appreciate it.
And because I did that, I can say that it was among the most beautiful and powerful moments of my entire life. And then it was over. But because I had taken a second to appreciate, to fully experience it, I was okay with it being over.
There’s a lesson here, I think. From now on, I’m going to make it a policy to stop and look around and appreciate the time I’m in, and the special and unique experiences it offers.
When I look back at that period, I am tempted to say it was the best time in my life. And I suppose, in some ways, it was: full of freedom, and adventure, and promise.
But it was also full of painful trials, failed experiments, financial uncertainty, and a lot of heartbreak—so in many ways, I must admit, it was also the worst.
Now, at 31, I have a flourishing career that provides both intense emotional fulfillment and financial stability. I’m in a place where I can actually have a relationship that teaches me and (hopefully) me a better man, each and every day.
If I could impart wisdom to my younger self, I wouldn’t warn him about the heartbreak, or tell him to avoid making certain decisions, or even advise that he spend his money more wisely. Those
mistakes choices made me who I am, and helped me get from that place to this one.
I would tell simply tell 22 year old John to enjoy it. That’s the lesson I would impart to my younger self. If I had the power to distort space and time, I would go back and teach him that: to appreciate the uniqueness of the moment.
To be as clear as possible, I don’t lament the passage of time or the changing of circumstances; I simply regret not feeling as much gratitude as I should have at the time.
Today, right now, in this moment, I appreciate that I have people who care what I have to say; I appreciate that this post may help someone. I appreciate that you came to this blog and read these words and perhaps let some piece of my heart touch some piece of yours.
But true appraisal demands complete honesty, especially about impermanence. I acknowledge this might not always last. I accept the possibility that a week or a month or a year from now, the Internet might collapse or the technology might change or people just might straight-up stop giving a hoot about me and my stupid bat.
If that happened, I’d have to look back and feel satisfied that for a moment—this moment—I had a chance to make an impact. And that is something I will never overlook.
This, I think, is the only cure for nostalgia—a preventative dose of appreciation.
So, yes: I’m going to miss my friends. And I miss our youth, and how often we got to see each other. But I’m excited for everything to come, and feel intense gratitude for all of the opportunities the present has afforded me. I’m looking forward to every new day, and to taking a second to just live it, and appreciate this special time in my life, this set of special and unique circumstances, which I will never again experience.
Because in the end, Ferris Bueller was right: life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.