So I was sitting down to write this column about summer and how that season has changed, because the official “first day” of summer came last week, and for my generation, that meant a shift into slow motion, long, languid days nursing a Coca-Cola, or rolling cornmeal on fishing hooks, or seeing who had a sprinkler to run through, or taking another bicycle ride around the same five blocks.
Nowadays, it seems much different. Nowadays, the first day of summer is like a starter’s pistol. Kids are off to their advanced placement summer courses, or their summer space camps, or their travel baseball and soccer teams, or their dance, drama or foreign language seminars. The emphasis seems to be “don’t waste time,” whereas, in our summers, time was in abundant supply, and nobody minded if you wasted a few days or even weeks of it, so long as you didn’t get in trouble and bother your mom and dad.
Anyhow, I was sitting down to write that column when a newspaper story caught my eye. It was Page One of both the Free Press and USA Today. The headline in USA Today read:
“Study: 25% of Americans have no one to confide in”
Personal bonds start early
According to the American Sociological Review, over the last two decades, the average American went from having three people to whom they could confide important matters to just two. And one in four Americans had no one to confide in at all.
No one to confide in.
Is there a lonelier sentence than that?
I began thinking about this problem alongside what happened to our summers. As you might expect, the sociologists blamed these study results on the typical suspects: too many people living in the suburbs and working in the city. Too many people with headphones over their ears. Too many people imprisoned before a TV set or computer screen.
But you can’t blame machines for everything. We’re the ones choosing to dive inside them.
I think there’s more to it. I think it starts earlier, like during the summer vacations we get as children. After all, very few adults make their “best” or “lifelong” friends when they are in their 30s. Our closest friends are usually people we’ve known much longer, often since we were kids. Stephen King, in one of his most memorable stories, “The Body” (which later became the movie “Stand By Me”), wrote what I always considered the best single sum-up of this. It was the last line of his tale:
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.”
There’s a reason for that.
Quiet time is important
Think about it. When do you establish the strongest bonds of friendship? Not when you’re moving a million miles per hour. You do it when you’re hanging around, lying in the grass, kicking a can, sleeping over in a friend’s basement. When you’re going slow enough to listen to your friends’ words, to look them in the eye, to share those uncontrollable fits of laughter.
Friendships might be photographed at parties or celebrations, but they are forged in much quieter moments. The kids I rode bikes with when I was 12 are still guys I can talk to today. The guys I shared midnight pizza with in college are still men I can confide in if I need to.
The point is, to have a trusting friendship – one that provides you with confidants – you have to give it time to breathe. Not to compete. Not to text-message. To breathe, to hang out, to smile, to share time, even boring time.
So maybe when we’re deciding what our kids should “accomplish” this summer, we should consider the value of slow, meandering friendships with kids who live nearby. True, such things don’t give you diplomas or trophies when the summer ends.
They give you a lot more.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).