Forward Living: An ode to old friends

Before I worked full-time, I attended church regularly on Thursday mornings. About six years ago, I spotted a gal who looked vaguely familiar sitting a couple of pews ahead of me. When it was time to exchange the peace, she turned around and faced me. I may have blinked a few times, but I do know that my feet were stuck to the floor. We stood, staring at each other, frozen in time. When recognition smacked us in the face, we screamed simultaneously: “Ceil!” “Carol!”

We hugged and may even have jumped up and down. The priest and the rest of the congregation looked on in fascination — or horror; hard to tell. I mean, really, folks don’t usually scream in church. We had attended the same church on Staten Island some 30 years ago. I was an active parishioner and she was the newly hired assistant priest. After a time, she was called to another parish; sadly, life got in the way and we lost touch.

Was it fate or divine intervention that reunited us? I think a little of both. After church — and after the shock wore off — we chatted. Carol was saddened to hear that my first husband, George, had died, but happy that I’d remarried and moved to Jamesport. Coincidently, she had a summer home in Southold. Was it fate that we now lived in close proximity? We got together for a beach day and discovered that we were both starting new chapters in our lives. Divine intervention, perhaps? We talked nonstop, bouncing ideas off each other from morning until dusk. The 30-year separation quickly evaporated.

Carol and I clicked immediately. She had comforted me when I had my first bitter taste of grief following my dad’s death. Numbed by frozen emotions, I couldn’t cry for some time. She delivered a sermon one Good Friday that started to melt the iceberg that masqueraded as my heart.

Back then, women priests in the Episcopal Church were just emerging. Because Carol was a wife and mother, her sermons, although deeply spiritual, had the right mixture of the ordinary. She has a gift: She can make an ordinary day seem like a sacred journey. When we met, I was in spiritual kindergarten and Carol played an integral part in my maturing faith.

Besides being my priest, she was my gal-pal. She may have startled the “older, hat-wearing” gals when she administered communion sporting red nails! I loved it. She is down-to-earth, contrasting sharply with some priests who act like they are the direct descendants of Abraham.

The 1975 hit play “Same Time Next Year” focuses on a man and a woman, both married to others, who meet once a year for a romantic tryst. During those times, they discussed births, deaths and the problems each were experiencing. One can say the same about our relationship, sans the romantic part. We usually meet once a year for dinner when Carol is out for summer vacation. Without missing a beat, we are back to where we left off the year before. Over time, much has happened in both our lives: some joyful, some painful and a lot of the in-between.

Over dinner recently, Carol remarked how friends come and go but old friends have a history that binds forever. Methinks old friends are like comfort food; we don’t always crave mac and cheese, but when we have it there is nothing better.

When we reconnect with old friends, we realize that although we have taken different roads, the roads usually converge somewhere during our lifetime. “We are friends” — such a simple but powerful phrase. Author James Joyce writes: “There is no friend like an old friend.”

Traveling on the road of life we traverse many twists and turns. But, come hell or high water, the road leads us back to the folks who were there in the beginning.

Funny, huh?

Iannelli_CMs. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.