John Krull: For auld lang syne, for old friends

By John Krull

For The Republic

INDIANAPOLIS — We sit in the hospice, four men in a small room.

Three of us sit in chairs. The fourth is in a hospital bed.

We have gathered to reminisce about our enduring years of friendship — to speak of auld lang syne.

To talk of times long past.

We got to know each other several decades ago when we all worked at the same newspaper, during days when we lived to tell the tale of our community, our state, our world.

Two of us strung words together as reporters and columnist. Another one captured life with a camera.

The guy in the bed sold the ads that kept the paper’s doors open and all of us employed.

Newspaper work in those days was a pressure cooker of deadlines and stress. We lived and thrived on adrenalin rushes.

It was a strange life, one that many outsiders couldn’t grasp or understand. That was one reason newspaper people could be clannish.

Another was that the hours were long and unpredictable. We spent a lot of time together, battling and feeding off the same tensions, the same highs, the same lows.

We were tight.

The four of us ran together, both literally and metaphorically. To ease the pressures we were under, we went for long runs, swam endless laps and took epic bike rides on the weekends. We gathered often for lunches, for dinners, for cups of coffee and bagels, for drinks.

On the most important day of my life — the day my wife and I married — these three guys stood beside me.

Now, one of us sees his days dimming.

And the rest of us have come to keep him company.

Much has happened since the times long past when our friendship locked in.

We are older now. We all have the laugh lines and scars to prove it.

We’ve all had triumphs since we got to know each other, but we’ve also known disappointment and heartache, too. We’ve lost loved ones, seen marriages collapse, built new ones, experienced professional setbacks and bounced back.

Yeah, we’ve all had our rides on life’s rollercoaster.

We haven’t been able to see each other as much as we’d like in recent years.

But, as we talk, that doesn’t matter.

We catch up on each other’s lives. We swap stories. We tell jokes, some of them decades old. We inquire about each other’s children, spouses and significant others. We share memories of old comrades.

The laughs come easy and often. They are warm. They are heartfelt.

When our friend in the hospital bed speaks, his voice is soft and tremulous. The three of us in the chairs lean forward to listen to him.

His body is wasting away, quitting on him a little more with each day.

But his spirit and his wit remain. He’s still there.

Still our friend.

Because he’s still here, so are we.

By his side.

That’s why we sit in this little room, four old men doing what old men have done for centuries, maybe even millennia. We talk of the past. We revisit and savor the moments, the days and the years that have made our lives richer.

We take comfort in the fact that we know each other.

Too soon, it is time for us to leave. The friend in the hospital bed shows signs of fatigue. The three of us in the chairs rise. We shake his hand and tell him we’ll be back.

As the three of us walk out, the sound system in the hospice plays a holiday tune.

The song is a familiar one.

Something about whether old acquaintance should be forgot.

No.

Not ever.