I used to be a manager in I.T. for a large corporation. I made a lot of friends in the time I worked there. Beginning some time in 2003 or 2004, a group of us got together every month for a poker game.
In 2005, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. About the same time, one of the guys who used to work for me, and one of the original members of our poker group, moved away to Silicon Valley in California. Despite the loss of our good friend, the games went on.
In 2011, after several instances of falling asleep behind the wheel on my way home from work, and with other symptoms making it more and more difficult to do my job, I left the corporate life behind. Parkinson’s brought an end to my corporate career. I was now a full-time “Parkie.”
But I refused to accept that that was all I was. With time on my hands, I decided to take a serious whack at something I always wanted to do, so I started writing. At first I wrote about my experiences with Parkinson’s, but as time went on, that wasn’t enough. I began writing fiction, eventually working my way up to novels, and in January, I self published my first novel, Ojibway Valley. Now, while still a Parkie, I’m starting to think of myself as a writer, too.
The poker games continued but gradually became less frequent, as time went on and more of us went our separate ways, until last August, when they seemed to abruptly end. As the games ended, my contact with my friends and former co-workers waned. I understood that the shared experience of work had always been at the core of those friendships, and now that I wasn’t part of that world anymore, all I had to offer was the past, and that meaningful friendships need more than memories to sustain them. I was busy forging my new identity, and while their world moved on without me, so too was my world moving on without them.
Then about a month ago, our former co-worker who’d moved to California sent an e-mail out to the poker group, saying he’d be in town in February and asking if we could get a game together. So it was that we reconvened last night.
Leading up to the game, I admit to a bit of apprehension at how things would go, given the different directions our worlds were moving in and the space that had been put between us. Would they still recognize me? Would we still have anything in common?
The turnout was great, as we had ten participants, an all-time high. Guys showed up who I hadn’t seen in three or four years.
When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by smiles and handshakes and, much to my surprise, by copies of my novel. It turns out that they were all very interested in my new world, and here’s the part that really shocked me – they were even proud of me! As the night went on, it felt warm and close like it always did, for the more than ten years since our first game, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one who’d changed in all that time. We’d all changed, as we’d grown older and raised our families. Some changed jobs, new members joined us and old members dropped out, but sitting around the table playing poker and telling bad jokes hadn’t changed one iota and felt just as great as it always had (that wasn’t all that hadn’t changed – I again lost almost all of my money, proving once again that I am a terrible poker player!)
So it turns out that the various identities I’ve worn – corporate I.T. manager, Parkie, or Writer – haven’t been as important as that of Friend. Once established, friendship is strong enough to encompass a galaxy of different identities. In our friends, we recognize and respond to the core identity we all share, that of living and breathing and changing human being.
I’ve been working for a while now on a second novel, and when people ask me what it’s about, I respond by saying that it’s about a guy who emerges from the clouds of self absorption to recognize that there is a whole world beyond him. Little did I realize that I was describing exactly what our little get together did for me last night. It made me recognize the sustenance that friendship provides.
Now if only I could recognize when I’m drawing dead against a full house, I might be getting somewhere …