It wasn’t just that we had the same teachers, shared the same prayers, the same coaches and the same hot lunches. It wasn’t just that we were classmates, teammates, bus mates and, at the time, soul mates. We were brothers and sisters, in a sense, with values shaped by nuns who had rulers and rules, and giant hand bells they shook to get our attention. It was that, molded by all these factors and shared experiences, we understood each other and everything around us without saying a word.
Thirty-five years later, it’s still true.
An outing with an old friend from the old neighborhood brought back the same comfortable feelings that I had as a kid during afternoon recess.
Like chocolate milk and soft Philly pretzels after morning prayers, we share a bond that can only exist with someone who has known you since childhood, when it was unthinkable to pretend to be something other than what you were. It’s a bond unfazed by a fancy car or a fancy job. It does not judge a messy house or a messy life. It's just there, accepting, knowing, caring – because someone who knows you from “way back when” still does, in the truest sense, even after 35 years.
And it’s so comfortable.
Old friends bring us back to our roots, helping us see and feel the world as we did when life was simpler, and so were we. They take us down memory lane and catch us up in a blink of an eye, as images flood our brains, and stir our senses.
When it occurs, we understand how we got this far.
I am 11 years old again and it’s springtime. Sister Mary Agnes is ringing her bell. Recess is over and we rush to get in line.
“Are you ready to get back to work?” the nun asks.
“Yes, Sister,” we reply in unison.
Our shoes click on the playground surface as we begin to walk inside. We take our seats in wooden desks, and say another prayer.
Our future is shaped in this classroom, she tells us.
And, yes, so is our past.