In 1935, Carlos Gardel, the famous Argentinean singer and considered a legend in and one of the most distinguished figures of Tango, sang in “To Return,” that twenty years is nothing. This fact is never more true than when we reunite with old friends.
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to the paradisiac Cabo San Lucas for the 35th
anniversary of my Medical School graduation, and get reacquainted with some old friends I had not seen in that many years. Understandably, most of us were not easily recognizable. Even those who have weathered life a little better, had put on weight, were wearing glasses, had gray hair, dyed hair, or no hair. All subtle, or not so subtle, changes which altered the image we had held to for so many years in our minds as we remembered our time in medical school. Amid, so many physicians, it was laughable how many spoke of diabetes, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, and myocardial infarctions as more than ailments they were treating in others, but which we know of at a more personal level.
In spite of that, the more than forty sexagenarians who were able to assemble for that weekend had the time of our lives. Although, most of us have acquired wisdom, peace, maturity, and an age-tested serenity about us, as our reunion progressed from the awkward surprised hellos of that first welcome alumni dinner of the first day, we pleasantly discovered there was enough of our old selves still in us, to reconnect with old roommates, feel a tinge of the same attraction towards old boyfriends and girlfriends, and laugh at remembrances of old mischiefs.
As I said my goodbyes at the end of those idyllic days with promises to this time really keep in touch, and make time to attend next year’s reunion in the Bahamas, I realized that even though our lives can hardly be considered a perfect realization of what we dreamed they would be like thirty five years ago, most of us, if not all, have been successful in making for ourselves good, productive, happy lives. Twenty years of absence is indeed nothing, like Gardel sang, where true friendship is concerned. Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “ Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,” and as we have faced those struggles with good values and strong foundations, we did become men and women of value.
These recent days in the company of old friends taught me several truths. First, that H. Jackson Brown, Jr. was right when he said, “Remember that the most valuable antiques are dear old friends.” Secondly, that Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development hold
more truth than I gave them credit for when I learned of them in med school. Being with my old friends in the ego-integrity versus despair stage as we grow older, we can look back on our lives and accomplishments and answer the existential question of: Is it Okay to Have Been Me? in the affirmative. And, third, true success is not measured by what we acquire but rather who we acquire in terms of family, friends and associates throughout our lives. With Albert Einstein I say, “ Try not to become a man (or woman) of success, but rather try to become a man (or woman) of value.”