This was originally posted on Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Mark and I'm reposting it solely to make sure it doesn't ever get lost, because it meant a lot to me at the time. Thanks, Mark.
I’ve been active online for 9 years now. With one exception, nothing I’ve done online has brought me closer to making 25-year friends. Life online rewards breadth, not depth. As gratifying as it may be to have 1 million “visitors” read at least one word of my latest online book, chances are none of those visitors will turn into people who turn into friends who turn into 25-year friends.
How many 25-year friends can you hope to make in one lifetime? 25 years is a long time. That’s half of a short life, a third of a normal life, or a quarter of an extraordinary life. Depending on when you start counting, 25 years might include some or all of growing up, graduating from multiple schools, getting married (or remarried), having (and raising) kids, changing jobs, or changing careers.
But a 25-year friend is not just “a friend for 25 years.” It’s not the passage of time that matters as much as the “of course”-ness of it all. Of course I want to hear about your breakup. Of course you can come over anytime. Of course I’ll help you move. Of course you’ll be my best man, and I yours. Of course we’ll be each other’s godfathers. Of course you’ll “lend” me some money when I hit hard times. 25 years of “of course.”
And in the end, and I mean the very end, of course you’ll come visit me when I’m all but paralyzed. Of course you’ll go outside to throw a ball around with my son while the paramedics take me off to the hospital, again. After I can’t so much as lift my legs, of course you’ll sit with me in the hospital and help me get comfortable every five minutes. After I can’t feed myself, of course you’ll ignore the doctor’s orders and sneak in some cheese bisque and feed me one spoonful at a time. And after I can’t change myself, of course you’ll call the nurse to say there’s shit running down my leg, and of course you’ll stick around to help the nurse roll me over so she can wipe me down, then roll me back so she can change my sheets.
A good friend will help you move. A great friend will help you move a body. A 25-year friend will help you move your own body, if that’s all that’s left to do.
And when the nurse asks, “Family? Friend?” of course you’ll say, “25-year friend.” And she’ll say, “25-year friend. What a thing. What a thing to be.”
In the end, how many 25-year friends can you hope to make in one lifetime? How many do you really need? I would have said “only one,” but it turns out what I meant was “one who will outlive me.”