I took off my belt, rummaged for my keys and waited to pass through security at the courthouse. This was my first time serving jury duty, and I didn’t know what to expect. Holding too many metallic items, I dropped my keys and turned around to pick them up when I saw him. I gasped. Did I just see a ghost?
It was over a decade since college, and I had lost touch with many of my close friends. I lived in other states, countries and just returned to New York a few months earlier. I often ran into familiar faces, but this one was a surprise.
Muck left college when the cancer got bad—too many restrictions, too susceptible to germs. But we always managed to stay in touch. When I made my first trip to Staten Island to check on him, his doting mother overwhelmed me with kindness. But so much time passed since that visit I was afraid to call. How could I face his mother if his condition got worse?
“Muck, is that you?” I said, staring in disbelief at his tall, thin body.
Muck was one of those nicknames you gave and can’t even remember why, but somehow it stuck.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I’m a lawyer. I’m in from Albany for the day on a case,” he said.
The line moved, and I needed to pass through the metal detector. We agreed to meet for lunch and caught up. He was married now. Practicing law.
Sometimes you exchange numbers and pleasantries knowing you’re never going to call, but this time was different. I was so relieved to see him doing well that I wasn’t going to let any more time pass. We began to email and talk occasionally, and a few years later I found myself in Albany for a conference. This time we met for dinner.
Some friends you catch up with and they give you a résumé of all their accomplishments. But Muck had been to the other side; he had no need for such nonsense. Instead we talked for hours about what we really wanted out of life. I traveled looking for it and came up still yearning. He had beaten cancer but still wanted more. We created a plan.
“Let’s make a list of three things we really want out of life,” I said.
“Yes, more than that and it will seem overwhelming. Pick your top three, and we will hold each other accountable.”
That day he shared his three things, and I shared mine. He and his wife were struggling to have kids and their fertility treatments weren’t working. He was working all the time and wasn’t satisfied with his quality of life. He wasn’t feeling close to people and wanted to figure out how.
We toured the capital and sipped amber beer from a local brewery and smiled at how after all this time we could still talk so seamlessly. How connected we felt, perhaps even more than before.
Muck took my advice and set about changing his life. His wife switched doctors and they now have two lively boys that I got to meet the last time I was in town. It took a while, but he found a new job that he loves, one with reasonable hours, so he gets to spend more time with his family. And the new friendships he made at work have, like ours, survived time and distance. With real friends they always do.
As for me, the most important thing on my list was a vow to hold on to cherished friends, regardless of geography. Thankfully, I have.
Elana Rabinowitz is a freelance writer and ESL teacher living in Brooklyn, New York.