The Universal Notebook: Friends in orbit

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Funny how people pass through your life and you through theirs.

Last week, I ran into an old friend in the Hannaford parking lot. As soon as I hailed her with an enthusiastic, “Hi, Gail!” I knew she wasn’t Gail. But I could not for the life of me remember her name.

I have a hard enough time remembering the names of people I see all the time, but “Gail” and I have been in different orbits since our daughters graduated from high school eight or 10 years ago. All I could remember is that one of “Gail’s” daughters played softball with Nora and that another helped coach Tess in middle school lacrosse.

First I scrolled through the online Yarmouth taxpayer list without any success, and then I resorted to e-mailing Nora, who knew exactly who I was talking about – Lissa’s mom, Anne. Strangely though, in the biochemical bubbles of memory, I had actually remembered Anne’s family name, but I was thinking it was her daughter’s first name.

Anyway, I called Anne and apologized for calling her Gail. Turns out she hadn’t even noticed. We both laughed about becoming forgetful and then caught up on what our grownup kids were doing these days – weddings, babies, grad school.

Now that two of our girls are married and on their own and our baby is in college, I sometimes feel disconnected. My life for 25 or 30 years was all about them. My immediate circle of friends tended to be the parents of their friends, classmates and teammates. Dance classes; Little League softball; elementary, middle, and high school athletics and activities; booster groups; School Committee; church youth groups; travel soccer and premier soccer. For eight or 10 years, we traveled all over the northeast with the families of Tess’s Maine Coast United teammates. Now they’re off in their own orbits and I miss them.

I guess that’s why people have reunions. Last summer, my high school class held a belated 40th (actually 42nd) reunion. It was good to see old classmates, even those who weren’t necessarily close friends. There’s just something about spending a little time with people who know the things you know, like who you were when you were 16 or 18.

This fall, there will be a reunion of people who worked for Maine Times, the late, lamented liberal weekly for which I wrote for more than 20 years. Hardly seems possible that it was that long or that long ago. I’m looking forward to seeing my old colleagues and hearing what they’ve been up to – and what they make of these reactionary times.

I’ve seen studies that say the average person has a circle of about 290 acquaintances and an extended social network of 750. But I’m guessing that, after 61 years on earth and close to 40 in Maine journalism, I probably know several thousand people by name (if I could just remember them). There are 2,609 people in my e-mail address book alone.

The true human core of my universe, however, amounts to just a dozen or so family members, three or four close buddies, and three or four couples with whom Carolyn and I socialize. That’s it. Maybe two dozen folks who remain in synchronous orbit, no matter how distant or how rarely our paths cross.

Time goes flying on, simultaneously bearing us with it in the eternal present and leaving us behind in the lives of others. Old friends are a reminder that we’re all just passing through.

• • •

Correction: I was mistaken when I wrote in last week’s column that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes had denied telling former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer J. Christian Adams the DOJ has a policy of not prosecuting black-on-white crime. My apologies to Mr. Adams for the error.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.