"Walter", my father said to me when I was eight or nine, "if by the end of your life you can count your friends on the fingers of one hand, you'll be doing alright." I thought he was crazy. I was only small, and I already had dozens of friends. It was so obviously untrue what my father told me that I thought about it for a long time...for decades. Today I have over a thousand names in my electronic phonebook. There are dozens of numbers that I use so often I don't have to look them up. I call these people my friends. But I no longer think that what my father told me was crazy. I have lost almost every friend I've ever had. We argued, grew apart, moved away, changed psychologically, suddenly realized that we were using each other and not really concerned about the person on the other side of the relationship. Some of my friends found religion, or a spouse that didn't like me. One of the fastest ways lose friends is to become lovers with them. Love is deeper than friendship and far more fleeting. But as hard as love is on friendship, truth is the greatest test. Just tell someone what you really think, how you really feel. That will end almost any relationship within moments, even if you've been comrades for over 50 years.
The best way to keep a friend is to stay the same. Because even if they change, your friends will look to you to be a familiar port in their storm of transformation. Keep the same job, the same spouse, the same address, the same tastes and appetites and sexual orientation. I had these thoughts recently when I was in California. I'd just lost a friend. As I looked out the window of my hotel I saw the streets where I once had dozens of pals. And as I thought back over the Tonys, the Marys, the Johns and Margarets, I realized that almost every loss was due to my own inattentiveness. I broke unspoken oaths, I jumped into bed when I knew better; I couldn't forgive. I followed my own dream all the while knowing that friends dream together. There's another enemy in friendship: death. The older I get the more likely it becomes that people I know will die. And so on that glorious Saturday as I looked out my window at the Pacific Ocean only seven miles away, I thought about the man who predicted by solitude: my first friend, my dad. He died 11 years ago. I realized he was right about the five friends.
But still I knew that what he gave me in love could not be taken away. All the friends I've lost still have me in their landscape, as I have them. They came into my life and gave unselfishly, and when they had to go or I did, it really wasn't such a tragedy. As friends we helped construct each others' character. And so we are never lost to each other, not really. What our time together did was to lay the building blocks and the foundation of our lives.