Note: This topic is particularly on my mind right now - I have just had a friend of 20 years drift away. I held on to the illusion that we were still on the same wavelength for about a year. Then I finally had to admit - we just weren't going down the same road any more. Eventually, I let it go and began to move on, but it has been troubling nonetheless! Oddly, I had just met the friend around the same time this piece was written.

(Written July 25, 1990)

At times on life's journey, our path may converge with that of another traveler, so that, for a time, we walk side by side. We can communicate. We talk about the rocks along the way, share the smooth sections, and because we are so close, we seem to share the same experience, to walk the same path.

We may have similar feelings about a particular part of the journey. Sorrow at seeing a third party depart for another path. Fear about a steep climb over a rocky segment. Joy at the accomplishment of a climb. We build trust in one another as we help each other over the rocky spots. Occasionally we may stop, look into each other's eyes, and say nothing - yet feel the affection of being at this place and in this space - together. Sometimes words spoil the moment, so we may silently shake hands or hold hands, as seems appropriate, then turn and walk on.

Yet there is a limitation to the sharing of a path. We each see from our own eyes, translating signals to our own brains, having our own sensations of the gravel of the path under our own feet. And so, the sum of the mental and emotional recordings of the journey will be unique for each traveler, even though they be walking closely together.

After a time, the accumulation of these unique experiences may lead one to yearn to explore a path leading South. The other may be content to move along the same path as before. Or both may feel a yen at the same time, one path ten degrees to the East, one ten degrees to the West. Whatever - the paths begin to diverge. Many times each path is valid, each has merit. Or possibly one traveler senses intuitively the present path is uncomfortable, becoming too regular, or even bending back the way it came, and wishes to go another way. The reasons vary.

At first, the two travelers can still see each other on their separate paths, and are reassured. They once again make eye contact, and everything seems almost as close as before. Yet they can no longer lend physical support to avoid obstacles which may arise.

The new path leads to new acquaintances. Quite naturally those new fellow travelers come to be relied upon for support. There are new shared experiences. As the traveler moves further along, the new input, new triumphs and challenges have their way, gradually changing the path walker.

Then one day, at an intersection of two paths, the traveler joyfully spots his old companion of before approaching along the other path. They draw near, and stand looking at each other. The traveler longs to share his new triumphs with the other. Yet something has changed. Something indefinable. What is it? The eyes. They're not accessible, laughing and sparkling over shared joy. They appear cool, closed off, guarded. The eyes of a stranger.

The traveler senses the other does not wish to share in his joy. The different paths have changed them both - some intangible differences wall them off from each other. The traveler quickly closes off into a self protective pose.

The other walks off down his own path, not looking back, not bidding farewell. The traveler knows he must stay on his own path, does not wish to follow the other, but is saddened by the departure. Far off, the other glances briefly back, puts a hand up to wipe an eye, then disappears over the knoll.

The traveler does not try to follow the other, to recapture the former time. He has seen through the illusion of the shared path - his journey has taught him that, and he knows he must go his own way.

He feels the loss. Not regret; not bitterness. A sadness - an aware sadness, of things he cannot change. Yet mingled with that, if he has traveled far and wisely, is an appreciation - of the richness of the time they spent together - the ability to see that time as a gift, and to hold it as valuable. So, he takes his gift with him, lets the other person go, and, looking back to his own path, travels on.


Goodbye, old friend!

Author's Bio: 

Dan Hays is the author of "Freedom's Just Another Word, a hopeful and inspirational memoir about his struggles to overcome the effects of growing up with a violent alcoholic. Dan also presents hopeful radio messages in his broadcasts "Minute to Freedom." On his roundtable radio show "Dialogues With Dignity," Dan discusses topics of depth and substance.