This new year, he plans to ‘reach out and touch’ at least one acquaintance from days gone by
By George Valadie
Happy New Year! Though it’s barely two weeks old, I hope 2024 has already started you well down whatever path you envisioned might lay ahead.
There’s certainly no shortage of fresh new directions I could be taking. Or should be taking.
We all have a monster-size menu of personal changes from which we might choose—any one of which would help me be a better husband, better dad, better human.
But I’m shallow … not thin, but shallow … so losing weight is a big one I have chosen. Now I’m eating less bacon, walking more steps, and already thinking 52 weeks of this nonsense might very well be a pipe dream.
As the previous year was coming to a close, you likely saw the usual news stories and television specials offered to provide a retrospective glimpse of the year just wrapping up.
You know the sort of which I speak—remembering the news events that dominated the headlines, recalling the famous and distinguished who left us, and reminding us of the cultural fads we now follow that weren’t on anyone’s radar a New Year’s ago.
Reflection and introspection aren’t horrible places for each of us to start our new year either. Looking “backward” can give shape to the how and where and why of our “forward.” The un-walked paths that need walking, those darker places that need avoiding, and the everyday highways that travel more smoothly if we can just keep it in the middle.
In our family, not unlike yours, last year brought its share of ups and downs. Sadly, we bade farewell to three beloved dogs and a hamster that was laid to rest with a front-yard funeral two children won’t soon forget.
But there’s also been the pride that comes with a new job, the excitement that comes with new cars, and the pure joy that comes when a brand-new baby girl joins the world of the human race.
Collectively, our immediate family broke several bones, tore some muscles, and underwent four different surgeries—not a single one related to any of the broken bones. We traveled a little and stayed put a lot. And we all watched and cheered as the grandkids took turns doing their thing: soccer and dance, basketball, volleyball, and golf.
We let go of some dreams. And celebrated some others. And one of those others was the book I finally got to write.
You never know what each new year will bring. Doing such a thing certainly wasn’t in any of the resolutions I had made for 2023.
I’m hardly the only person who attempted this author thing. Statistics say almost 4 million new titles are released every year.
Most are sold by the truly greats who have publishing companies chasing their every word. The majority of the rest travel the relatively new option offering the self- or hybrid-publishing path. I was proud to join them.
It was an uncooked idea that had been marinating for some 25 years, dating back to the late 1990s when I first began writing columns such as these. Retirement finally gifted me with the time to bring it to full boil.
As part of the whole publishing experience, I was blessed to have been invited to hold a book signing at a previous school in a previous city where I had previously served as principal. I’d never even attended such a thing, much less been the reason for one. But off we went.
Our family last lived there in 1999, and we hadn’t gotten to return nearly as much as we would have liked. So, it’s been a minute since we’d seen many of these folks.
With no clue what might result or who might drop by, my “what-if-no-one?” anxiety turned into a two-hour thrill ride allowing Nancy and me to catch up with students and parents and former teachers we had known.
We hugged and laughed and told the tales we could recall. By event’s conclusion, our memories—mine and hers and theirs—had all melted together to weave a remarkably beautiful vignette of whom we had known and what we had shared when we were together those many years ago.
There was the preschool teacher who reminded me I had assigned her to teach 25 4-year-olds in the school’s chapel with no windows and no bathroom. She could almost laugh about it now.
There was the former student who still flashed that same devilish grin when he asked me to sign his book “To the most favorite student I ever had.”
And there were more than a few moms and dads who had challenged us, supported us, and trusted us with their kids. They still talked to us, too, so that was good.
Time and distance magically melted away, making it seemingly impossible that 25 years had passed. Each had a memory; each had blessed our lives.
Laughs and books aside, it was also there when I realized what our 2024 could look like. All of us.
What better resolution can we make than for our “new” year to be about “old” friends?!
I’m betting my phone and laptop look a lot like yours. Both full of an untold number of names and numbers, addresses and photos we had gathered, needed, and used once upon a time.
But how ironic is it that they are now “contacts” I never contact? People I no longer call or write or even send a Christmas card their way. Facebook friends who don’t much feel like friends anymore. Classmates, colleagues, cousins.
True, we tap out the occasional “thumbs up” or click on the “heart” that social media offers us as a way to acknowledge their existence. And if we get really wound up, we might take the time to type out a complete “H-a-p-p-y-B-i-r-t-h-d-a-y” message rather than tagging on to someone else’s.
But we can do better. Can’t we?!?!
New year—old friends!
We’re not guilty of anything. No sins to confess. We didn’t unfriend anyone. Not exactly. Not on purpose anyway. It’s just that time and life and changing circumstances did what they do.
AT&T’s old commercial is way out of date but not out of style as it encouraged us to “Reach out and touch someone!”
Snail mail’s getting more expensive, but there’s nothing I like better, so I’m guessing they would, too.
How about Facebook Messenger? At least it requires us to compose and send an actual greeting.
Nobody calls anybody much anymore; texting seems to be the preferred mode of “reaching out,” though I bet AT&T never imagined that in 1987. But hey, that’s a start!
And why is it we don’t call them? Seriously, why don’t we?
New year—old friends!
One New Year’s resolution I decided to add is to spend less time mindlessly scanning my phone looking at random videos. I could write a bunch of books with that block of time alone.
Instead, I plan to spend more time scanning my list of contacts and Facebook friends, many who are—or were—real friends in days gone by. And then I’m hoping to “reach out and touch” at least one of them every day.
New year, old friends … who can be new again!
Dear God—Thank you! What greater gift than that of more time. Another day. Another year. Another chance to bless others, just as you have blessed us. Amen.
George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga and author of the newly released “We Lost Our Fifth Fork … and other moments when we need some perspective.”