Once upon a time, when Adam was a lad, I devised and wrote a series called Soldier, Soldier. I wrote it for only two series and went on from that to write another series for the same broadcaster. Soldier, Soldier carried on for several more years and after the last episode had been transmitted I had a letter from an Army Colonel who had loved the show. We started to write maybe once or twice a year, sometimes more, and the friendship, warm and now familiar, has continued although we have never met. His wife died, he became frail, stopped travelling, and then, yesterday, the postman delivered a typed collection of his memories, and it really is fascinating. And very funny.
His account of joining up in 1946 is quirky and accident-prone and hilarious. He’s 92 but, like his letters, his memories are wonderfully lively and ageless. We have a strange little friendship. We chide each other. He was feeling glum as he approached his birthday so I sent him a quick short telling-off and prescribed sipping a good whisky and a sneaking a snooze in the garden. He did both. When I told him that I’m not writing any more he sent me a brief and strongly worded (!) instruction to get the digit out and stop mucking about. I grinned and obeyed.
He’s a good friend I have never met and will never meet. I always recognise his letters because he is the only one who ever addresses me as ‘Lucy Gannon MBE’. He’s military and correct and old-school. We just ‘get’ each other. Sometimes it’s easier to have friends at a distance than those who are close up and can see all our flaws and failings and meet us on our bad days. We never even have to forgive each other because we’ve never hurt each other. He doesn’t know how horrible I am. Hurrah! An ideal friendship.
That’s me being daft. Of course it’s not ideal. When we meet friends normally, bumbling through life with them, relatives or neighbours or whoever, we are bound to bump into each other awkwardly sometimes. We get close enough to tread on each other’s toes, but we learn from each other too. We grow together. Or we try to. And yes, it’s painful, but it’s worth it.
The friendship between Robert and me exists over the miles, but this is a time of distant friendships for everyone – Covid has separated us all. It’s a strange time when friends don’t meet, when phones don’t ring, when hugs are… oh, wait, wait! I haven’t told you about this; I saw two friends of about my age meet on the harbour wall at Aberaeron. I had been watching one of them as she walked up and down, anxiously, looking first one way and the other, obviously waiting for someone. And then her eyes lit up, she dropped her bag, ran forward, arms wide…. I don’t know what the story was, I don’t know who they were, I couldn’t hear what they said, but they ran into each other’s arms, and they hugged. They hugged and hugged and hugged. One had her glasses fall off and she didn’t even notice, both were crying… they hugged and hugged and hugged, unable to stop, unable – I think- to believe it was really happening. That they really were together. People walking by slowed down to stare… it was wonderful. Wonderful! Everyone was smiling. Wonderful. They cried and laughed and hugged again. They stood back and gazed at each other and dissolved again into tears and laughter. Wonderful.
Sorry, that was a segue. I just wanted to share it. Share the joy. The world is a bit sad and semi-detached just now, and it’s good to remember the joy of being together. And it’s very very good to remember that Covid separation won’t last for ever. It’s a painful time. I have friends who haven’t seen their grandchildren because of this pandemic, ex-pats living here who have been separated from their loved ones for far too long, longing to hold their grandchildren, to scoop them up and just love them. It’s good to remember the joy, to know that it will be ours one day. It will.
Back to Robert and his written anecdotes: It couldn’t have been easy, at 92, to type all these pages, to conjure the words and images, to get the envelope, ask someone to post it…. This old frail man, who I will never meet, took the time and defied the miles to step into my quiet house today and make me laugh, and he made me remember those two women hugging , and he reminded me to thank God for friendship. Today I have spoken to absolutely no one, apart from a few words to the dogs. I’ve waved to friends in the distance on the beach, but I have been alone, door closed, a silent and lonely day. But Robert has, somehow, been here.
Oh! And an email has just pinged in from a very very dear friend, who lives just down the road, and we’re going to walk on the beach together soon and talk about God and eternity and other stuff we don’t understand and don’t have the words for.
Right, listen up, I’m going to tell you something now – hang on while I reach for my stern look, and extend a wagging finger…… this is to all of you…. one day all you will care about in this world is your God and your friends. The longer we live, the nearer we get to popping our clogs, the less everything else matters. God and friends. That’s it.
I heard something in a sermon two weeks ago that really struck home… “We make time for the things we value.”
I value friends. I am going to make time for them.