Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Old Friends

Back about 30 years ago, TigerBlog and his friend Corey were commissioned to take down the old wallpaper in Corey's grandparents' condo and then paint the walls. How hard could this be?

Very, it turned out. By the time his grandparents came back, TB and Corey had basically destroyed one wall, causing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in damage.

TB thinks back to that day often and laughs to himself. What in the world, he thinks, made him and his friend Corey think they could strip wallpaper and paint a house?

TB and Corey had been friends for a decade by then, and they're still friends to this day. The whole question of friendship is an interesting one to TB, who makes a huge distinction between "friendly" and "friend."

A friend is someone who's there for the long haul, not just because circumstances have put two people in the same place at the same time.

Facebook, of course, has devalued the concept of being somebody's "friend." Now, with that social networking site alone, people can have hundreds of "friends" that they never see, never talk to and really have little actual human connection to.

TB and Corey are not friends on Facebook. Corey has about a billion Facebook friends, and he stays updated with people from back in the day. TB has no Facebook page, because he's more interested in the genuine article of friendship rather than a nostalgic view of it.

All of this came to focus again for TB for two reasons. The second we'll get to at the end.

The first is the men's lacrosse team's current stay in North Carolina, which began Sunday, continued with a game last night against the University of North Carolina and concluded today with the long ride home.

TB considers himself a reasonable observer of the team from years of seeing them on the road, with numerous trips to NCAA tournaments and with one trip to Europe. To see a team of nearly 50 players from that off-the-field perspective is fascinating.

We at Princeton often refer to how the undergraduate athletic experience - and really the undergraduate experience in general - leads to the making of lifelong friendships. People are met who become friends in four years and have friendships that last for 40 years beyond that, or in some cases even more.

It's one of the best parts of college, and being part of a team only enhances that.

TigerBlog could never figure out why one player becomes best friends with another player above any other on a roster, why a group of three or four become inseparable. Why those two? Why that group?

By playing the same sport at Princeton, any sport, athletes by nature are starting with a ton of common interests. Take, say, fencing. Fencers at Princeton have gotten there by being committed to that sport and to being top-level students. Yes, some come from different parts of the country or the world, but teammates at Princeton are essentially brought together by a similar background.

Sports, of course, can transcend almost anything that general society offers to keep people from becoming friends. Look at the Princeton women's basketball team, where much has been made of the longtime friendship between the Jewish Lauren Polansky and the Palestinian Niveen Rasheed. It's a great story because it's so simple: two kids are friends because they are basketball players and students and Americans, regardless of political backgrounds of their people. It may be - actually, it is - too simplistic to say that if those two can do it than any Palestinians and Jews can become friends, but hey, it does give some hope.

Their story is extreme, but athletics has made lifelong friends out of people of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, upbringings, etc.

When the men's lacrosse team arrived for its pregame walk-through Tuesday afternoon, the Princeton players came off the bus and onto a practice field at the same time that a high school team was leaving the same field after its practice. The high school kids stood, two or three together, watching the Princeton guys get their gear and get onto the field.

The college kids walked together with their friends. The high school kids stood and watched with their friends. A few of the high school kids recognized the Princeton players and said "there goes Tyler Fiorito" or "there goes Jack McBride" with a hint of awe, which was endearing in itself.

Who of those groups will be friends 40 years from now? Some from the Princeton group will be, and some from the high school group will be. They'll stay in touch, talking often, going to places together, be in each other's weddings, watch their kids grow up. They won't need a social networking site to stay in touch.

Why will some of these friendships last? No idea. TigerBlog has no idea why he and Corey have stayed friends all these years when other people have long ago faded away.

Oh, and the second point? Today is Corey's birthday. He's the same big kid he was when TB first met him in the third grade, and TB wouldn't change a thing about him.

Like all great friendships that have lasted, there's no need to wonder why they have. It's better just to appreciate that they did.

Why does one become friends with someone and not someone else? It's hard to say.

1 comment:

Corey said...

Thanks TB! I'm trying to come up with some sort of witty line and/or poignant reason as to why we've remained friends all of these years, but I'm a poor wordsmith (unlike you!). Maybe it's our common love of the Giants, The Godfather or Goodfellas... maybe it has something to do with Entenmann's chocolate doughnuts -- I really don't know. What I do know is that you really are one of my all-time best friends and I love you man!