Thursday, October 9, 2014

On Friendship and Death

This morning I thought about someone I had not seen or communicated with for some time. I hesitate to use the term 'friend' as it is the word under scrutiny in this post. Well, we had been what one would call childhood friends. We grew up together, from around the age of seven or eight, till when I was twenty when life sent us our different ways. We played together, went on childhood adventures together and flirted with girls together. I recall him having kissed some girl in the estate and he came to tell me about it and describe how it was. I resolved to also kiss a girl and experience the feeling. As we grew older we even shared some drinks together. So yes, he was my friend back then. 

When I was twenty I packed my stuff and went to India - to get an education, it was said. This was in the 90s, before mobile phones became a gadget for the hoi polloi, this was before the age of the internet for the masses (at least in the third world) and social media was unheard of. Those days when you went away, and had no friends ready to commit to writing and licking postage stamps, that was it, you never saw or heard from each other until fate (or graduate.com or Facebook years later) would conspire to bring you together. And that is how it went with my friend Peter. 


This is how I looked like growing up in the 80s, how my childhood friends might remember me

I never saw or heard from Peter until 6 years later when I was back in Kenya. Of course there were the occasional updates from mutual friends or acquaintances who had run into him -- stuff like "Peter is still in Nairobi and doing well...", stuff like that. When I came back to Kenya from my studies...well, three years of studies and two years of partying and figuring who I was, he was among the first guys I inquired about. About a year later I traced him and we were able to catch up on the good ol' days. We met several times over the next couple of years, had a chit chat here and there and when Facebook finally took over the world, we connected on Facebook and occasionally had the FB chat. 

But we were busy people with our own lives to live and promises like "we should link up and catch up over a beer..." were never fulfilled. So it has been several years since I last saw him. Occasionally I told myself that I need to make contact with him but that's all there was to it, telling myself. So this morning I thought about Peter. And because I did not have his number I thought about posting something on his Facebook wall. I always never have people's number because somehow I have never mastered the art of back-up, or I am not just disciplined at it. So I did not have his number and when you don’t have a friend’s number you look them up on Facebook. So I checked Facebook this morning.

What I saw on his wall were RIP messages. Messages dating back two years.  

At the beginning I put the word 'friend' under scrutiny because your friends don't pass on and you don't know about it for two years. That just sounds wrong. But maybe the essence of "friendship" changes over time, no? I mean, we meet at the workplace, became close, even share secrets, embed ourselves in each others' lives and when one get another job, moves to a new city or country that relationship starts to become faint and fainter until it is no more. Does friendship then end? Does a childhood friend cease becoming a friend because you no longer talk or see each other frequently? Or should friendship be judged on the experience you had together and be frozen for eternity regardless of what will become of you later in life? Someone once told me you only walk through life with one or two friends, that when you look back, you will only see one or two people who have walked with you through the different "epochs" of your life. That the rest have just been mere acquaintances through different stages of your life. The supporting cast, not the main actors. I choose to disagree. If Peter had not been my friend I would have not felt the extreme sadness I felt this morning.

I feel a sense of guilt that I never grieved him when it mattered.