What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies: A letter to a dear old

When I came out of the front gate of the 12-storey building, the cab was already waiting for me. I first thought the driver was having a brief nap. But a closer look revealed he was completely immersed in something he was reading. I rapped on the windshield to get his attention.

He looked up, greeted me, then said apologetically as I settled into the back seat, “I’m sorry sir, please forgive me, I was reading a letter.” He sounded as if he had a bad cold.

“Don’t worry, that’s fine by me. Letters from home always mean a lot,” I said. Then, estimating him to be 60 plus years, I guessed: “From your child - your grandchild?”

“This isn’t family,” he replied. ‘Though it might as well have been family’.

Sanath was my oldest friend. In fact, we used to call each other ‘Old Friend’ - when we’d meet, that is. I’m not much of a hand at writing.”

“I don’t think any of us keep up our correspondence too well,” I said. “I take it, he’s someone you’ve known quite a while?”

“All my life, practically. We were in the same class all through school.”

“Not many people have had such a long friendship,” I said.

“Actually,” the driver went on, “I hadn’t seen him more than once or twice a year, over the past twenty-five years, because I moved away, and lost touch. For the past three years, I didn’t meet him at all. Anyway, he was a great guy.”

“I noticed you said ‘was.’ Does that mean”?

He nodded. “Died a couple of weeks ago.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Losing an old friend is tough.”

He didn’t reply, and we drove on in silence for a few minutes. When he spoke again, it was almost more to himself: “I should have kept in touch.”

Then, we were silent for another two kilometres. “You know sir, I could not attend even his funeral. I came to know about his death after 8 days, accidentally, through a passenger like you.

Thereafter, I visited his home. His daughter told me he died of lung cancer.Perhaps, if I had kept in touch with him, I could have tried to do something to help ease his pain, and then things would have been different, but I’m not sure what I could have done. But, I should have kept in touch, and I didn’t, and now it’s too late”

“Well,” I agreed, “we should all keep in touch with old friends more than we do. But somehow, we don’t seem to find the time.”

He shrugged. “We used to find the time,” he said. “That’s even mentioned in the letter.” He handed it over to me. “Take a look.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I don’t want to read your personal mail.”

“Old Sanath is dead. There’s nothing personal now,” he said. “Go on.”

The letter began with the salutation “Old Friend,” and the first sentence reminded me of myself: “I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but I’ve always put it off.’

He went on to say that he often thought about the good times they had together. The letter had references to things that meant something to the driver - tales of adolescent pranks, fond remembrances of times past.

“Did you two work at the same place?” I asked.

“No, but we hung out together when we were single. And then, after we were married, for a while we used to go to each other’s house every now and then. But for some time, it’s been mostly just New Year cards. Of course, there would always be a note, - what the kids were doing, things like that - but never a real letter.”

“This is a good part here,” I said. “Where it says, your friendship over the years has meant an awful lot to me, more than I can say because I’m not good at saying things like that.”

I found myself nodding in agreement. “That must have made you feel good, didn’t it?” The driver said something I couldn’t understand. I continued: “I know I’d like to receive a letter like that from my oldest friend.”

We were getting close to my destination so I skipped to the last paragraph: “I thought you’d like to know I was thinking of you. And it was signed, Your Old Friend, Somi.” I handed back the letter as we stopped at my home.

“Enjoyed talking with you,” I said as I got out of the cab. “I thought your friend’s name was Sanath,” I said. “Why did he sign the letter ‘Somi?” “The letter’s not from Sanath to me,” he explained. “I’m Somasiri. It’s a letter I wrote to him before I knew that he’d died. I never mailed it.... I guess I should have written it sooner.”

Value of friendship

As I walked past the front door and moving towards my room, I realised why Aristotle described deep friendship as, “What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies”.

Plato reflected deeply and extensively on the nature of friendship and then thousands of years later psychologists helped us understand why friendship was worth as these philosophers told us.

Friends not only bring spice to life, they are the “we” that make good things happen. Therefore, losing a friend can hurt.

It is important, then, to know that we all grieve differently. Our histories, personalities, and the degree of investment in the friendship, along with the current stresses and resources in our lives influence our response to loss.

That night, before I went to bed, I wrote four long letters to four of my “lost” friends and made a bold entry in next day’s To-Do list “Mail 4 letters first thing in the morning.” 

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