Learning from the laid-back example of a long-ago friend

“You sound the same,” a friend I haven’t seen or spoken with in a quarter of a century said. “You, too,” I replied.

We’ve exchanged Christmas greetings and occasional emails during that time, but no more. Instead of enclosing a letter in this year’s Christmas card, John wrote, “I want to call you. Let’s set a time.”

As I anticipated his call, it occurred to me that John is my oldest friend. Friendships from my school days faded away, but John and I have stayed in touch for more than four decades. We haven’t been close since we’ve lived in different cities, but we’ve both been reliable, making contact at least once a year.

We were in our 20s when we met on the job in Rochester, New York, where my then-husband’s work had taken me. John and I were in the communications services department at Rochester Institute of Technology, he in administrative support and I as a “communications associate,” a fancy term for a public information role. He had recently graduated from RIT with a photography degree that didn’t present bright career prospects.

John had a ready laugh and a white man’s Afro. He loved rock music, cooking, walking, and exploring nooks and crannies of urban neighborhoods. He was timid but sure about his likes and dislikes. If he didn’t want to do something, you couldn’t guilt trip John into doing it.

The first gay man I befriended, John was honest and genuine and more open than any man I’d known. He and I and another coworker used to compare notes about the men on campus we considered attractive. The three of us grew close. I expected the other woman and I would have the longest friendship, but it was John who proved faithful after I left Rochester.

I visited Rochester not long after I moved back to the Midwest, and John and his then partner visited Chicago after I moved here 26 years ago. In the quarter century since then John experienced major life events: his partner died of cancer, he moved to Greenville, South Carolina, and has a new partner, and he retired.

John spent the the bulk of his working life at 3M, but I’ve forgotten exactly what he did there. He probably didn’t say much about it in his Christmas letters because career was not very important to him.

As we spoke on the phone the other day, I reflected that John puts a lie to the notion that we have to keep striving. I had a new perspective on him: he could be a role model for me.

“Here’s someone who isn’t pressuring himself, who has such contentment doing exactly what he likes,” I thought.

Indeed, he already knew what he liked 40 years ago. His interests haven’t changed. He listens to music. He walks four miles a day, for both exercise and the sights along his route. He cooks and gardens and plays with the dog. He relishes being home. He and Philip invite people to dinner a lot. They renovate their 1920s house.

“I enjoy my simple life at home with the dog,” John said. “I feel so lucky being able to have what I want and a partner to share it with.”

I was already impressed by John’s lifestyle when he revealed the clincher: Whatever he’s doing, he quits in midafternoon. All the neighbors know that when the weather is good, he will be on his front porch between 3 o’clock and dinnertime, should they care to join him for a beer. Two or more people show up every day.

John love the neighbors and their kids. His neighborhood in central Greenville is populated by professional people who don’t fit the conservative Southern stereotype, he said. He invited me to visit so I could see for myself.

I’m making plans to go in the spring. I hope to return inspired by John’s at-ease example.

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  • Sounds like its going to be a Great Trip. Like they say, "Live and Learn". I hear S. Carolina is beautiful. enjoy

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