5 May, 2020
‘Old age comes not alone,’ my father used to say. Well, many things come with old age, of course, but, paradoxically, one of the hardest to bear is not an addition but a loss. One of the worst aspects of old age is loneliness. We need company all through our life but we need it most when we are old.
Dr Johnson said, “A man should keep his friendship in good repair.” I take this to mean not only keeping up with those friends we have but also making new ones, and these will probably be younger, which is no bad thing. It is not easy. Friends move away to be nearer their children, who have moved away long before. When you retire, you lose the company of colleagues, clients and customers. You are no longer so keen to jump in the car and drive to see a friend for an hour or so.
I have just watched an unusual video. The presenter interviews some pairs of friends and asks them how often they manage to see each other. It may be once a week, a couple of times a month, each summer or every Christmas. It may even be less than that. Then he asks their ages and finally, on the basis of average life expectancy, worked out how much more time they would probably spend together. The results were periods of a few hours, two and a half days, a week and so on. The conclusion is a little melancholy but the point was made. We should make the effort to see more of our friends. Yes, we should keep our friendship in good repair.
The pandemic has changed our lives. Now many people are working alone at home. This is often the only solution but it will probably continue in some form when the Covid restrictions are over and the pandemic finally withdraws into the past. Well, this saves all the commuting and traffic jams which meant that some of us knew the insides of our cars better than the inside of our homes. But I hope this lonely way of working does not take over our lives. The chat of the workplace matters. Being with workmates matters. The companionship of work is important. So is being able to switch off from work when at home. Wasn’t it the Belgian painter, Magritte, who put on a suit every morning and walked round the block till he arrived home again, changed into old clothes and started to work in his studio there? We must separate work and home. Magritte’s solution wasn’t much but it was something.
What can beat watching football matches together? Perhaps in a pub or at home with some friends and a few beers. There is a world of difference between watching a match on your own clutching a lonely beer can and watching it in the company of your friends.
So keep your friendship in good repair. We need our friends now and we will need them later on, and they will need us too.