A common friend told me that J had started dialysis and that he didn’t look too well. I visited him on Wednesday and was a little ashamed that it took a health crisis for me to make the time to go see him. We were friends who had grown up together in Penang. I have known J since we were together in Standard 4 (Primary 4). In our Upper Six year (JC 2) I was the editor and he was the business manager of our school magazine.

After our A-levels, J left for the US to read engineering in a top US university. I came down to do dentistry in the University of Singapore. Our paths diverged. We both live in Singapore now, but we see each other maybe once or twice a year if we meet up at all. As is often the case, it needed a crisis to remind one of who is important and what one should be doing.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, did a study on what were the main regrets of the dying. Five stood out. One was:

 I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

You can read about the rest here.

There is something special about connecting with an old friend. There is a shared history to look back on. There is the sense of feeling at home with someone of the same tribe — in our case, English-educated Penang Hokkiens from Pulau Tikus. Catholic and Protestant, we are both followers of Jesus. Yet, because we hadn’t kept in touch for a long time, we swapped a lot of new stories as well. And reminded each other of old ones.

His renal failure was a long time coming, the end result of years of diabetes.  He is now on a regime of three dialysis sessions a week, each lasting four hours. There are good days and bad. On the bad days he would be so weak that he would find it difficult to move from his bed to the bathroom. I voiced the old cliché, “growing old is not for wimps”, and we were both quiet in our common assent.

J pointed me to his new “car”. Kept next to the door, it was a mobility scooter. He said that with it he could scoot to his dialysis centre and to market. He had made tough choices to adapt to his present condition but, within his new boundaries, he lived. He isn’t a wimp. (Did I remember to mention that he had had one heart attack, a stroke and two heart bypass operations?)

I enjoyed my visit with J and will visit him again. We plan to get some of the other guys we had grown up with, others from our tribe, to meet for a meal the next time. But whether I can swing that or not I will come again to visit. It is the least I can do for an old friend.

Jesus set a high bar for friendship. He said:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NIV)

I have been privileged to have been the recipient of such love from many dear friends. It’s about time I upped my game.