Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boys’ night out keeps three lives’ strands from fraying

My latest op-ed published in the Providence Journal Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

Kevin and Steve were two guys I went to graduate school with. After graduation the three of us happened to end up working as psychologists at the same community mental-health center. That was 30 years ago, and today we are all still friends. Indeed, Kevin and Steve are probably my closest friends. When we first met, I would never have guessed that we would become friends — much less that our friendship would last as long as it has — but due to a combination of luck and deliberate action, we are all still together.

A large part of our friendship is based on random events. The rigors of graduate school always create an intense bonding experience, and we happened to be in the same program at the same time. In the mid-1980s, after graduation, we all began our adult lives in Providence. We were newly married. Kids had not arrived yet, but we were working our first real jobs and beginning to acquire the accessories of adult life.

We all lived in classic triple-decker apartments common to Providence. These late-19th-Century structures have notoriously narrow stairways — not designed for late-20th-Century furniture. As each of us purchased our first real couches, the others were summoned to the challenging task of using rope and extension ladders to bringing these heavy pieces through an upper-floor window. Because Steve’s apartment was on a third floor, moving his couch was a particularly harrowing project involving an army of nervous friends and an enormous ladder.

During the raising of Kevin’s beautiful white contemporary sofa, the rope snapped while I pushed from underneath, bringing the load down on my head and eventually—because I could not hold it alone — back to Earth. Thankfully, the only damage was a headache and a small tear in the fabric.

Eventually, children came and we each drifted away from Providence. Steve and Kevin live in southern Rhode Island, and I have slipped over the border into Connecticut. The demands of work and raising kids made getting together more difficult, but there was an urge to keep the group together. So we decided to start meeting once a month for dinner: Boys’ Night. We have burgers and beer at a local pub, and each time we get together we set the date for the next meeting. It is a simple system that has worked now for about 15 years. We talk about work, kids, politics — whatever is happening at the moment. Once in a while, we get together with the spouses, too.

Over the course of our association, the three of us have not always agreed on everything, and we have taken breaks from Boys’ Night during vacation periods or holidays. But we have kept the string going.

Like all important relationships, deep friendships take work. It has not always been convenient for me to make arrangements to drive to Rhode Island for dinner, but I give this meeting priority over many other things. There are very few people in my life who have known me continuously over a span of 30 years. Much has happened to all of us in that time, and in important ways we have accompanied each other on our separate paths.

Boys’ Night means a lot to me because friendships like these don’t come along every day. It takes effort and a bit of luck. So I plan to keep making my monthly trip to Rhode Island as long as possible.

Stuart Vyse, an occasional contributor, is a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and the author of “Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold on to Their Money.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

People Will Surprise You

Once in a while we encounter people whose remarkable graciousness is a welcome and very pleasant surprise. These encounters are rare, but when they happen, they can restore your faith in the basic goodness of people and the society in which we live.

In December of 2009, I was in a car accident. Stated more accurately, I caused a car accident. It was a brilliantly sunny Saturday, and I was driving along a winding country road in Stonington, CT. Daydreaming, I allowed my attention to drift, looking away from the road as I enjoyed the winter scenery. Within seconds I had rear-ended a car that was stopped in the roadway. A car ahead was attempting a left-hand turn and was waiting for on-coming traffic to pass. The car I hit was stopped, waiting for the other car to complete the turn. I did not see the car I hit at all. I was traveling at full speed, approximately 35 miles per hour.

The car I hit was an Audi sedan occupied by a young man and his infant daughter. Thankfully, no one was injured. The front end of my Volvo wagon collapsed on impact and absorbed most of the force of the collision, and both the young man and I signed wavers and declined medical attention. I apologized profusely, and the young man was remarkably understanding. “Accidents happen,” he said. His most pressing concern was getting to Providence, where his wife was at the time, so that his daughter could be nursed. In the end, both cars were totaled. I had no further contact with young man, and I went on to buy a new Volvo wagon.

Eight months later, in August of 2010 my mother and I were at the Stonington Village Fair. Among other amusements, there were booths displaying the work of artists and crafts people. My mother was visiting with one of the artists and soon determined that she was the wife of the man whose car I struck back in December. The baby’s mother. My mother introduced me to the young woman, who was lovely. Remarkably, the woman was very friendly and seemed to harbor no ill will toward me at all. In fact, I learned that her husband—having researched me on the internet—had purchased a copy of my most recent book. In addition, she explained that, with a baby, they needed a larger car, and the accident gave them the incentive to decide what car to get. They chose a Subaru Forester. Again, I apologized to the woman profusely, and she said, “Not at all. Accidents happen.”

It is not often that you rear-end someone on the highway, totaling their car, and not only are they not mad but they buy a copy of your book and seem thankful to be forced to buy a new car. I will always feel regret and responsibility for this accident, but I am grateful to have met such wonderful people.