The email I received from Ben last November took me completely by surprise. A rather nice surprise since I had only seen Ben once since we were kids and that was on his 21st birthday. I don’t remember much about that night if truth be told; 21st birthday parties tend to be like that. My last clear memory of Ben is of he looked aged 12 in 1984 when his parents moved him to far away Melbourne to a school for “troubled boys.” I wouldn’t describe him as a troubled boy, at least not from the perspective of one his mates. The phrase “troubled boy” implies meanness or naughtiness, but even though Ben was always getting into trouble at school, admittedly more often than most, it was his irreverent sense of humour and wit, along with his disrespect for authority that kept getting him into trouble. A disrespect that in some cases would later be justified considering several of our teachers have since ended up on the wrong side of the law.
My childhood perspective would probably have been different had I been an adult then, and I shudder to think how our teachers viewed Ben’s antics which so entertained and enthralled us. Regardless, I have none but happy memories of Ben, even the memory of him beating me up in the second grade, once recalled with dismay and a touch of shame, is now recalled with a smile and a laugh.
Over a few emails we caught up on the last 23 odd years. It turns out we both had some similar experiences over the decades: we had both travelled a lot since university and both ended up as teachers far from home. Ben was now living in a small town in the north of Thailand working with Jildou, his Dutch girlfriend, teaching and assisting the disadvantaged hill tribe people of the area. Another nice surprise soon came in the form of an invitation to Ben’s wedding.
One distinct disadvantage to working overseas is that friend’s weddings rarely fall on convenient dates. The distance, expense, and work commitments all transpire to make wedding attendances all but out of the question. That wasn’t the case though with Ben’s wedding which fell on a date and location that suited me perfectly. The date of the wedding was just a few days after I finished work for the winter and the location was about half way home to Australia where I intended going anyway. Ben couldn’t have chosen a date that suited me better. How considerate! With the English House camp finishing at 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 5, I had just enough time to rush home, clean, pack, take a risky 30 minute nap - a nap that almost killed the whole endeavour - before catching a 2 a.m. taxi to the bus terminal for a bus to Inchon enabling me to catch the morning flight to Chiang-Mai, which would in turn get me to there Sunday for the Monday morning bus transporting guests 160 kilometres north to the township of Fang for the Tuesday wedding. The timing was perfect.
The wedding itself was a fantastic and truly memorable event. Although the word “event” isn’t the right one; it was more a series of events spread over three days: hikes; elephant rides; trips to remote villages; performances by Ben’s students; numerous Thai buffets; two wedding ceremonies – one Thai, one western; and of course a whole lot of beer, singing, and dancing. The exuberance of the 30 strong Dutch contingent in the singing, drinking, and dancing departments had to be seen to be believed.
Personally, it was great to revisit the 12 years of my childhood and compare distant memories with Ben and his family. Ben didn’t remember beating me up and I didn’t remember Ben and I winning an under-12 cricket game by scoring more runs than our parents thought possible. Ben’s family also brought the memories back, especially his father who hadn’t changed at all since 1984. He was still the wizened Gandalf-like figure I remembered, but at age 12 I hadn’t realized he was the world renowned geologist who unearthed the earliest evidence of human ritualistic burial, a man and woman buried some 40,000 years ago. Not a bad little find. The memory of riding an elephant with him listening to his stories of travelling the world making discoveries was an experience I’ll long treasure.
If it had been my wedding, I probably wouldn’t have even thought of Ben, let alone thought to invite him, and although I think hardly anyone would think of such long lost childhood friends, Ben’s correspondences and invitation did remind me how easy it is, even with the convenience and speed of email and the Internet, to lose contact with friends. I think it is the convenience of email that has made me lazy. So often I read an email and decide to reply later or the next day. As so happens with things we put off until later, tomorrow never comes and gradually contact is lost. Maybe I would be better at keeping in touch with friends if email didn’t exist: perhaps I would be letter at keeping in touch by old-fashioned postcard or a personalised letter written on colored paper and stamped airmail. Who am I kidding? With Ben, time served as an excuse, but I can’t say the same for friends more recent and I was reminded of all the friends that to my shame I’ve neglected to keep in contact with. When it comes to keeping in touch, I’m just plain lazy. Ben’s unexpected email and even more unexpected wedding invitation served as a reminder of just how nice it is to hear from an old friend. It’s time to dig up that old address book. Thanks Ben.