Do we have time for a coffee?

I am scheduled to chat through Zoom tomorrow with an ancient friend named Max. It is the first meeting in a long time that I’ve been scheduled to attend. There is rather an air of formality to it. My friend is from Toronto. We were classmates in 1963 and have hung together sporadically since then.  As I motored about Renfrew County this breezy and brilliantly sunny afternoon, windows open, landau roof propelled back, feeling the heat of the sun and absorbing the mechanical precision of the Ford Motor Company beneath my anodized carcass, I pondered what might usefully and perhaps even objectively be put on the table so to speak for discussion tomorrow. I mean to say, what exactly does one talk about with an old friend? Is it possible to sustain meaningful relationship after such long periods of absence?  Or do we never change? Is it possible to read too much into a willy-nilly rendezvous? Or should one approach the matter with reverence, casting one’s mind humbly upon the inevitability that will one day follow and separate us forever?  Or do old school friends just bounce back to the youthful texture of years ago?

Max was the eldest brother of three who attended St. Andrew’s College, Aurora, Ontario where we all called home for three-quarters of the year. In my first year there, when I was fourteen years old, I lived in Fourth House; Max I think was in Flavelle House; and his young brothers (who attended the school after we left) were likely in Macdonald House on the other side of the quadrangle close to the chapel.

Max and I were what one would call “nerds” though our teasing comrades used a more grievous expression, “Suck!” often delivered in a mocking tone, fingers of the right hand conjoined and pulling successively from the lower lip while uttering the offensive ridicule.  It constituted my earliest insight into those who are naturally unintelligent.  My particular endurance of the indignation evaporated the following year when I was accelerated to a higher Form.  It was then that I began my acquaintance with Max.

We hadn’t anything particular in common other than that we got along.  We would often walk together about the country campus sharing tales or making angels in the snow. Max loved to chide me about my passion for sunshine and tanning. We both ended being House Captains in the Lower School, Prefects in the Upper School, I was the Regimental Sergeant Major in the Cadet Corps, Max was Pipe Major of the Highland cadet corps band and we both graduated summa cum laude. Most of our associated friends were of the same ilk though one (Nicholas) was less academic but a chap with a caustic and highly amusing wit. Nicholas was one of the few “day boys” at the school as most were boarders. Nicholas, Max and I were the triumvirate that traveled together, skiing in Vermont for example. Nicholas’ parents in Thornhill were constantly treating us to dinners and outings off campus. Nicholas’ sense of humour rocketed during these congregations and I find myself smiling just to think of the silly things that were said!

Max lost his mother tragically.  When Max graduated from St. Andrews College he went to Europe for a considerable period before we reunited at Glendon Hall on Bayview Avenue in Toronto. Our frequency of coalition was much diminished at Glendon.  I had temporarily gone in a different direction of friendship, sticking primarily with the other boys in the same residence as I.  Once again Max and I lived in different men’s residences, though both fronted on a quad.

Our paths blended again upon graduation from Glendon Hall.  We both went to law school.  He went to Osgoode Hall, I to Dalhousie Law School.  After graduation from law school and completion of Articles it wasn’t until we attended the Bar Admission Course at Osgoode Hall that our paths were anywhere near to collision. But study courses were organized alphabetically so Max and I were separated most of the time. Following Call to the Bar, Max went on to become a highly successful downtown Toronto lawyer and lecturer at Osgoode Hall.  I opted for the country lawyer life.  We’ve both now retired.

Max’s life at the start of his career took another major shift when he got married. From everything I’ve ever heard about Max and his wife, they developed a very successful and meaningful relationship including with their children. Toronto was seemingly the knife that cut the fabric of our relationship. Naturally both he and I were extremely busy managing our separate law practices.  Our subsequent meetings were infrequent but always happy get-togethers, sometimes on the eve of our departure on a flight from Toronto. Nonetheless we have sustained random communications through email since then.

Knowing as I do the exceptional refinement that distinguishes one’s life at this advanced stage, I am not certain what we’ll have to say to one another tomorrow.  I do however welcome the opportunity gleefully because one of those filters I mentioned is the very high esteem of friends and the importance of the friendship. It requires little analysis to apply the reduction of associations to the level of friendship. Especially after one gets out of business the strength of friendship is clarified exponentially. I won’t lapse into a Rudyard Kipling characterization of the friendship but there are certainly elements which inspire the myth.

The Man Who Would Be King is a 1975 Technicolor adventure film adapted from the 1888 Rudyard Kipling novella of the same name. It was adapted and directed by John Huston and starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Saeed Jaffrey, and Christopher Plummer as Kipling (giving a name to the novella’s anonymous narrator). The film follows two rogue ex-soldiers, former non-commissioned officers in the British Army, who set off from late 19th-century British India in search of adventure and end up in faraway Kafiristan, where one is taken for a god and made their king.

What I remember of Max as a youth is a fun-loving guy; what I’ve seen of him as an adult is a caring, successful family man. The same mantle does not of course suit me. What it is however which continues to unite us is less inexplicable other than in that baffling word friendship.