What It Feels Like To Be A Friend

Derek Personal Stuff 33 Comments

On my final morning in the town of Sighisoara, I opened up my laptop at around 10:00am, minutes after finishing off a mediocre breakfast that consisted of a couple of eggs and stale toast. The first thing I did was to log into my email account where I scrolled through the many messages I had received during the night. And then, after only a few seconds, I stopped scrolling. One particular message had quickly stood out among the others and grabbed my attention so unexpectedly that I had no choice but to read its contents immediately.

The email was from a high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in a few years and as I read every word ever so carefully, I instantly became aware that, because of this one message, my day, perhaps the following few days, perhaps the rest of my trip in Europe, would no longer be the same.

The content of my friend’s email was nothing shocking nor was it filled with bad news. It was just a simple email written to say hello, to give me a quick update about his life and to let me know that he still considers me to be a good friend despite our long lapses in communication.

Maybe you’ve received a similar email before. So you’ll hopefully know what I’m talking about when I say that my friend’s email was the kind of email that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and wonder why you haven’t kept in touch more often. Then, as the tingling sensation on your skin increases in intensity as you think back to all of the good times you had spent together, you also begin wishing that you could just call up that friend this very evening and then meet him or her for a couple of beers or a meal at the Town Spa (a well-known restaurant in my hometown).

Yet this feeling must not be confused with sadness. Far from feeling sad upon reading this message, I actually felt a moment of happiness, an extraordinary moment in fact, one that no medieval Transylvanian town could ever offer me.

And as soon as I finished reading the email for the third, or maybe the fourth time, I just laid back in my bed and spent some time deep in thought, quietly contemplating my life, the decisions I’ve made, the people I’ve met and the path I’m currently on.

I love to travel. I know that those few words make up a childishly simple sentence but I really feel there is no other way to say it. But just because I do love to spend my time learning about the world with my own eyes, it does not mean that I don’t spend some of my time wishing I was somewhere else, doing something else, surrounded by those with whom I shared so much during my earlier years.

Life on the road can be lonely at times, which is why such a wonderful surprise of an email from an old, wonderful friend can have such an effect on me. I can’t explain how it feels to know that such a person still considers me a friend even though I haven’t seen him in so damn long.

I’m not really sure the point of this post or where I was trying to go with this, but as soon as I left Sighisoara, I already knew that my time in Sibiu, my next destination, was going to be different. I was not at all interested in wandering around another town, taking photos or doing anything that travelers tend to do.

I just wanted to rest, to stop exploring, to take things easy and to not think about being a traveler. It was as if the email I had received made my travels, for a short time, seem somewhat silly, as no matter how many countries I visit, no matter how many people I meet, little can match the feeling of knowing that some connections we make, especially those made and solidified during our youth, will survive the challenges of growing older and heading off in opposite directions and ultimately, end up lasting a lifetime.

During the three days I spent in Sibiu, I did nothing. I was not a traveler at all. And I loved every minute of it. I really was happy, glowingly happy, just knowing that even with the choices I’ve made, choices that have naturally taken me far away from those I once knew best, I was still considered to be a friend.

Note: I would also like to send out a huge dose of gratitude to the trio of Royce, George and Shrey who allowed me to crash at their apartment in Sibiu during my stay. I simply could not have asked for a kinder, more hospitable group of hosts.

Any tales of friendship to share? Any seemingly lost friendships that re-surfaced?


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Comments 33

  1. Pingback: The Future of Tourism in Sibiu, Romania

  2. You tell of something I have experienced myself but never found the words to explain for. Sometimes it’s the stopping rather than the going on that makes “it” (“the experience”? “life”? “the moment”?) what it is – simply what it is supposed to be at this very instant.

    Congrats to finding the courage to hold on to it for a few days and suppressing the need to be a tourist!

  3. Thanks for this philosophical post Earl, I really enjoyed it. Sometimes a kind note (or email) from a distant friend can mean so much. I recently received a card (in the mail!) from a family friend saying they were inspired by my blog. It made my day, as it was totally out of the blue. I suppose this is a good time to say ‘thank you’ to you Earl- my boyfriend discovered your blog a few months ago, and it has been a huge source of inspiration for us, as we are embarking on an indefinite traveling adventure of our own next year.
    You don’t even have to know someone to make a difference, and you will never know the scope of the positive difference you make in people’s lives, just by doing what you love. You love traveling, so do we. Because you are doing it, you inspire us to do the same. Thank you.

    1. @sarahsomewhere: I’m not sure what to say. I really can’t explain how happy I am to read what you wrote and to know that this blog has inspired others. Even better, I can’t wait to hear about where you both end up traveling to!! Please do let me know when you start to make some plans and as always, if you have any questions while in the planning process, just let me know!

  4. Hey Earl,

    I can relate well to what you’re saying about reconnecting with old friends. Something else I’ve found interesting (after starting my blog) is that acquaintances that I never felt that close to in person before are following along on my blog quite actively. I grew up in small town and some friends I haven’t spoken with in over a decade have discovered my blog and sent me personal messages wanting to know more about my travels.

    1. @Nomadic Samuel: That is interesting as a similar thing has happened with my blog as well. I too receive messages out of the blue from old friends who have been following the site for some time, and I just assumed that we had completely lost our friendship by now!

  5. Earl,
    Nice post. I have been reading along on your trip as I am going to be in the same areas August 2012. This year I had the privilege or reconnecting with two of my best friends from Grade School. And at my age, that was a long time ago. We spent nearly 20 years without communicating, I would have to say it was my doing. We reconnected through a simple phone call and have found our way back to our life long friendship. Although life and our decisions sometimes get in the way of friendships, it doesn’t mean those friendships are long gone and buried.

    My Grandfather used to tell me that at the end of your life, You were a lucky man if you can count your best, life long friends on a few fingers; that you have lived a full, happy and prosperous life. People come and go throughout your life, it’s the 1, 2 or 3 people who have been there throughout that make a friendship. I am happy to say that I can count 4 real friends in my life. I hope that doesn’t mean the end is near.

    Happy Travels to you

    1. Hey Scott – Your grandfather’s words make perfect sense to me, and I always consider myself fortunate to have a few close friends. I don’t need 100 close friends as that’s not realistic, but just a few lifelong friends can certainly make us feel as if we are the luckiest people around. And good on you for calling up your old friends. It’s amazing how one quick phone call can change everything!!

  6. Town Spa has the best pizza anywhere! My mom’s side of the family is from up that way and growing up we’d occasionally have a few of them shipped down to us in South Carolina.

    1. Hey Michael – I have heard so many stories of people who go back up to Stoughton once a year and take 100 or more frozen Town Spa pizzas back home with them, to places all over the country, enough to last another year!

  7. Beautiful post! You’ve really captured the feelings that are intertwined when you reflect on your love of travel and friendships. This was well worth the read, I think I’m going to go back up and read it again!

  8. Receiving a simple “life update” or “thinking of you” email from a friend always makes my day. I do usually feel some guilt about not keeping up with them as often as I should, but I do not feel sad about not being home to hang out with them. Maybe it is because I’ve only been gone for a year.

  9. Very nice post Earl. Everytime something like this happens I always kick myself for not having been the one to send a similar sentiment their way first. I don’t have the excuse of being a perpetual traveler, so I really should be doing a better job of being in contact. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it more over the next few days. Thanks for the prompt.

    1. Hey Steve – Sometimes it does take a quick reminder for us to finally stop what we’re doing and send out those simple, but important emails. Even my excuse of being a traveler is not good enough. In my opinion no excuse is good enough to lose touch with those we care about!

  10. Lovely piece. It’s true, meaningful words from people far away in distance but near to our hearts make such an impact. I just got off the phone with a dear friend who shares my love of travel; we chatted about life and caught up after several months of silence. She used to live down the road, and now she’s across the country…but the connection we share makes me so grateful for life, each and every time I catch up with her. Your post today makes me remember an email that I had planned to send a long lost friend…guess it’s time to get to it. Cheers xx

    1. Hey Bethany – Hopefully you sent that email 🙂 And that’s the thing, those connections where constant communication, or even frequent communication, is simply not necessary to maintain the bond are connections that we need to make sure we don’t lose track of all together!

  11. Such a great post Earl. Being a perpetual traveller means great sacrifices.
    I often think of how much I have missed with my friendships because of it. So many of my friendships have stood the test of time and distance which makes me so grateful that they still remain my friend even though I haven’t been around to be theirs.

    1. Hey Caz – I would have to say that missing out on friendships is the hardest part of being a traveler, which is why, when we realize that a handful of those friendships will still remain despite us being so far away, there is no other feeling but pure happiness. Glad to hear that your friends have understood your wandering ways as well 🙂

  12. Nice post. Thanks for sharing. I’d like to throw in that sometimes travel can be the reason a friendship continues. My best friend emigrated to Australia and it’s only now as I’m traveling that I have the scope to visit. We would no doubt have continued our friendship even without my going, but traveling means I can really absorb her new life and we will have plenty of memories to keep us skyping for years to come!

    1. Hey Lou – That’s obviously quite a good point. And the more a person travels, the more friends they make from around the world, so in the end, the only way to see many of those friends is if you are traveling. So that is definitely a bonus in terms of the connection between friendships and wandering. Have a safe trip to China and Australia 🙂

  13. After I traveled back in my early adulthood, I often wondered “how did I even earn to be considered a friend” after being away for so long. I lost all HS connections, except one. I lost all travel connections except a handful. BUT, those few connections have inspired me to be a better soul and to be thankful. The only one regret I do have about my travel time is not getting involved in a way to better the place where I was….even a visit to the orphanage, or seniors, something, anything….after all, I had received so much from my visit, I wish I had given back by just being in the presence of the needy. Years of travel did bring the aches of missing my family. I’m thankful they have accepted me when I came back from a very selfish time of my life, but with only that one regret, other then that…..I consider myself very fortunate for my past experience which travel has made who I am today.

    1. Hey Linda – In the end, having those few strong friendships that can withstand anything is much better than having dozens of friendships that really don’t have much meaning. At least that’s what I think. As for your one regret, it’s impossible for everything to go as perfectly as we once might have hoped and I doubt there are many people, including long-term travelers, who don’t have at least one regret as well. And if all you have is one so far, I’d say that you’re on the right track by far 🙂

  14. As we contemplate becoming full-time travelers in our 50s, I have recently been re-connected with a two cousins, two high school friends, and a sister I haven’t seen in 5 years. It is amazing how strong the bonds are. Even more fun is that whenever we mention the possibility of leaving the rat race and becoming nomads, the reaction is complete intrigue, followed by envy, and eventually encouragement. As you stated in your e-book “Refuse the Rat Race”, true friends and loved ones will support and encourage you.
    The reunions and shared communication have bolstered our courage to give in to our wanderlust and just take off. We shall see. The warm reality is that the people and things most important to us will be here whenever we re-visit. Hope to see you out there Earl!

    1. Hey KC – That’s fantastic to hear about you reconnecting with so many people and I can understand how such connections would give you a huge boost in positive energy! And to have them be so supportive of your travel ideas from the beginning just goes to show that these are all such special bonds you have. And I now have no doubt that I will meet you somewhere out in the world at some point in the relatively near future (and I shall look forward to it)!

  15. Great story, Earl.

    One of my favorite lines in “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by Baz Luhrmann is…

    “Understand that friends come and go, but for a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gap in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”

    Having left my hometown at a young age and then bouncing around the world so often, I’ve always tried to keep in touch with old friends. I haven’t always been successful, but things have gotten much, much easier with the advent of the Internet. 😉

    Keep enjoying your trip across Europe and Asia! I’ve been enjoying reading about it.

    1. Hey Justin – That’s a perfect quote and I think that’s what happens…we do start to realize how important those friendships are as we age and we suddenly want to find a way to keep in touch, despite whatever may have happened over the previous years. And just like you, I haven’t always been successful either, but you have to try for their to be a chance of a friendship surviving!

  16. I’m often surprised by which friendships stand the tests of time and distance, because the ones that do frequently aren’t ones I would have expected to do so, while some fall by the wayside that I was sure could withstand a little separation. When someone comes back into your life – via email, a phone call, an unexpected run-in on a street corner – it’s always a little bit of a shock, followed by a glow of remembered affection. You’ve captured that feeling perfectly – and inspired me to go write some long overdue emails!

    1. Hey Jessalyn – Well, did you write those overdue emails?? I hope so! And you’re right, there are surprises when it comes to friendships. I’ve been surprised as well over the years but either way, any type of friendship that survives time is one that I am happy to have!

  17. Good piece Earl. It’s true. Doing something that we are desire to doesn’t mean that we still don’t want other things. Recently I got so many questions, why. Why do I travel. Why I have to do it. Why. Well, just because I love it. Like you said, the simple combination of the words explain it all. I became full time traveler because I don’t want to runaway. I wanted to make travel as my reality. So, time to time, when I realize how grateful I am to travel, on the road, doing nothing can be everything. Seizing the moment. 🙂

    1. Hey Juno – I think you may have described my point better than I did 🙂

      And I’m glad that you also find that peace and comfort in doing nothing sometimes. It seems that this is often hard for people to do, especially when they travel as we tend to think that if we are traveling, then we must act like travelers all the time! But it’s healthy to just stop and enjoy a day of nothing whenever we feel the urge.

    1. Thanks George! Or should I just call you ‘The CEO’? I couldn’t have met you all at a better time and again, I appreciate all of your hospitality. Keep in touch and keep me updated with the progress of your projects…

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