(Joe Sheppard writes the Shep’s Place blog at Lawrence Academy — this is the most recent post. — Ed.)
One of the things I’ve always loved about Lawrence Academy is that friendships among the kids form easily, often between students of different grades—something which just didn’t happen in the uptight prep-school society that I grew up in, shortly before the Spanish-American War. Those friendships were a frequent topic of conversation in my office, typically with seniors nearing the end of their time at Lawrence. The dialogue would take one of two paths. The first was a real, and touching, concern among the seniors that when they left LA, they would lose most of their friends. There’s really not much an adult can say to a young person at a time like that, except to confirm, gently, that yes, it is likely that they will never see some of their classmates again after Graduation—adding that the friendships that are meant to endure, will endure. And only time will tell which ones those are.
The second topic was a corollary of the first. I would sometimes find myself explaining to young people that friendships can’t be taken for granted; like flowers, they need nourishment to survive, and without it they wither and die. This one hit me recently when I lost an old and dear friend, a girl I’d grown up with in the summers since we were very small. Betsy was honest, smart, funny and kind-hearted, the kind of person you’d always look forward to seeing. Even after a long interval, it seemed as if you’d been together the day before.
The thing is, we’d seen each other exactly once since college age, and that one time was thirty years ago. Her parents had moved away from our New Hampshire summer campground when Betsy was in her early twenties, leaving her grandmother, who owned their cottage, to care for it by herself. Betsy loved the place dearly, and, as a sole heir, expected that it would be hers when her grandmother died.
It was not to be. Her grandmother, a lovely woman whose memory was failing, sold the house suddenly without telling anyone in the family. Betsy was devastated. She did visit us at our cottage once, in the early 1980s, and we had a wonderful afternoon. Then she went home, which was only a few miles away, and we never saw each other again. For years I thought of calling or e-mailing her and inviting her and her husband to lunch or dinner, but I never got around to it.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I read some summer-related post on Facebook and decided to see if Betsy had a page. When I typed her full name, I was immediately directed to “Betsy O’Connell Miller obituary.” She had passed away in December, apparently of cancer. The writeup was beautifully done, and the picture, a recent one, showed Betsy with the same broad, slightly mischievous smile that I remembered so well. Memories drifted in along with tears, and then a vague feeling of guilt. I had “meant” to contact Betsy, but I hadn’t, and now it was too late.
I’ll never know whether Betsy’s and my friendship would have revived had we seen each other again. What I do know is that I didn’t follow my own advice. I took the flower for granted and never watered it. So, friends, try to be better gardeners than I was with my childhood friend. Water your plants and talk to them—they say it makes them grow better. And come to Reunion this June—after all, isn’t that all about friends?