I am being a bit hopeless and goofy at the moment, so I’m feeling a bit hopeless and goofy. The hopelessness and goofiness did not arise as some amorphous emotion; they came because I’m doing some fairly stupid things I should not have not done, and not getting done the sensible things I should have done.
So: hopeless and goofy.
As I sit, trying to pull myself together, an adored old friend rings up. We talk about family and work and politics. We laugh a lot. There is good news about two best beloveds who are in remission from galloping cancers. The old friend is roaringly successful. He does things every day at his office that I cannot imagine. He’s worked incredibly hard all his life and he finally hit the jackpot and I was never more pleased for anyone, he deserved it so much.
I tell him about some of the goofiness and hopelessness. He has never been hopeless or goofy in his life. He is clever and funny and practical and bloody brilliant. He does not scoff or sneer at my weaknesses. He does not seem even slightly surprised or horrified. He makes a joke and does some empathy and then gives me some sterling advice which I had asked for.
As the conversation comes to an end, he hands the telephone to another old friend, who wants to say hello. ‘We miss you,’ he says. ‘Come south soon.’
Both these men have done some really big stuff. They run things. They make a difference to things. They put in the hours and made it to the top of their fields. They, I think ruefully, would not let the horses wander off and leave hoofprints all over somebody’s lawn. (My poor landlord. I don’t know how he puts up with me.) They carry the garlands of success on their noble brows. But they are exactly the same as when we were all absurd teenagers together, thirty-two years ago. They have that slight sheen that comes with worldly success, as if an operative polishes them every day, but they have no bombast, no Trumpian swagger, no whiff of superiority. They are miles above me in the rankings, but it makes no difference. They still laugh at my jokes and render me speechless with hilarity and make me feel better with the very sound of their dear voices.
I sometimes think that failing is easy. Of course I don’t mean that entirely. Failing is horrible and makes me want to shout and swear and spit. But one has so much practice with failure. It’s deep in muscle memory. Everybody does it. Succeeding, however, can be hard. Not everyone knows what to do with success. Some people are ruined by it. I’ve known people who started chucking all their old friends once they grasped the golden ring, and would have odd dinners for famous people they had only met once. I’ve known people who really did change. Not my boys. They are as they ever were: most happy when they are poking fun at themselves. And not, for one second, afraid of the hopelessness and goofiness, which they take in their easy stride.
I put the telephone down, feeling as if the whole world is lighter and brighter and more explicable. That is what old friends can do.