Friendship truly for life

Jul. 28, 2014 @ 04:22 PM

BFF -- Best friends forever.

The acronym is tossed around nonchalantly on social media these days, often with all the validity of that great media cliché, “the fight (or game) of the century.” Those fights or games come around with such regularity we should perhaps recast the phrase as “this year’s fight of the century.” Best friends forever may mean until one of them changes his/her Facebook status.

But recently, at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, two gentlemen got together for a party. As Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan told their story in The Herald-Sun Sunday, these were beyond a shadow of a doubt two best friends forever.

Reuben M. O’Neal celebrated his birthday at the park with Arthur Stanley Alston.

The men became friends in the early 1940s. Both men today are 98. We’re talking more than seven decades, stretching from the days when they would take O’Neal’s blue 1938 Ford over to Raleigh to last week getting high-fives from Wool E. Bull as the two old friends watched the Bulls take on the Rochester Red Wings.

There is a lot of Norman Rockwell nostalgia in the O’Neal-Alston story.  Both men served in World War II and came home as part of “the greatest generation.”
Each went to work during and after the war for the Liggett and Myers tobacco factory – and spent their entire careers there, an increasing rarity in these days in which employers and employees alike often show a transitory loyalty to one another.

But most striking was the story of a lifelong friendship, a friendship that meant that “anytime anything happened in his family, we were there, and they were there (at ours),” as O’Neal put it.

Of course, many people today can say that about deep friendships forged over time and tested against the strain of life’s ups and downs.  But friendship today also is often characterized by a simple click on a computer screen.

It’s true, as Terri Thornton, a communications professional, argued on public television’s website a few years ago, that the majority of people she knows “now consider at least some of their online friends to be extended family.” She cited a Pew Internet and American Life Report that Facebook users “have more close relationships and receive more support than others.”

But Gregory Jantz, an author o mental-health issues, took a dimmer view earlier this year in Psychology Today:

“As we struggle to keep up with our hundreds and sometimes thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook, are we sacrificing time that could otherwise be invested in being a real friend? Is it possible that the larger your ‘network’ the shallower your connections become? By immersing ourselves in social media, are we choosing the quantity of friends over the quality?”

Life changes.  We don’t want to be Luddites, and if collecting hundreds of Facebook “friends” excites people, we can hardly be critical.

But we can truly celebrate friendships that lead to this observation of O’Neal about Alston: “I’ve been knowing him a long time.”