RJ and I first became friends when we shared a workstation years ago, as we both worked in a call center, at the time when the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) was still a budding industry in the Philippines. He was a new employee and I was a newly promoted team leader. Back then we were the wide-eyed, hopeful, young leaders learning the ropes of people management, with both our shares of small wins and learnings. I’d say the work of a team leader had been the toughest one for me to date, and it was the support groups like the one I had with RJ and several other colleagues that helped a lot. We would find time despite the different schedules to hang out and catch up over dinner or very early breakfast (when our shifts would be overlapping). And then eventually our support group drifted apart when most of them, RJ included, migrated abroad. Thankfully there was social media that allowed us all to keep in touch. And then the rare get together when any one would visit the other’s country.
Last week I had the honor of getting to visit North Carolina for a couple of days for work. I contacted RJ to see if he was in any way close to the Raleigh Durham airport. He said he was, and he and his little boy picked me up at the airport that sunny Wednesday. He has not changed since I saw him last, about seven years ago. I met his family – they were all so lovely, down to earth and welcoming. They prepared a dinner feast! There was crabs, prawn, pasta and home made pesto, and boiled corn and potatoes. When the kids finished eating, us grown ups had more to talk about – from catching up as to what we’ve been up to for the last decade, to reminiscing our “yuppie” years. It’s heartwarming to know that despite the gap in time, we were still the same old friends. I told him and his wife that the reason I clicked with RJ back then and until now is because he reminds me of my brother with the way he talks, and he cracks me up everytime with his witty humor.
Soon after RJ and his family drove me back to the hotel. Though we only had a few hours together, that day was the highlight of my week in the USA. When in a different country, be it for work or leisure, nothing beats spending quality time with old friends. They’re the family we get to choose.
Last night I met up with a couple of my classmates from the university – my first few friends when I moved to the campus way back in the 90s. It was a reunion of some sorts – something I’ve been doing a lot of lately, with different groups of friends whom I’ve known from school. My girlfriends were celebrating their birthdays this month too, so we treated ourselves to a mini feast sans the birthday cake. Funny how we reminsiced about the diverse not-so-healthy food we recklessly ate when we were teenagers – when nowadays we have to carefully consider ingredients and nutritional information as basis to decide what to eat. I’m glad I share the same dietary preference with one of my friends. I sometimes feel unnecessarily special when my other groups of friends would take a step back to plan out where to eat out with me because of my needs.
My girlfriends and I looked back and wondered at how we’ve grown. Out topics are now into the more serious stuff like taxes, work-life balance tips, raising children, and other things we didn’t even imagine when we were younger. Back then, our pressing needs included what and where to eat for lunch and dinner, who took the most notes and getting them photocopied in time for midterms and final exams, what to do in between classes (do we play billiards; or go bowling; strum and sing to the guitar; or on occassions we felt more responsible, study for the next class?). I kind of separated paths with them when, after several attempts to comprehend what’s being discussed by my Math 36 (i.e., Calculus) professor, compounded by the daze I felt everytime I went to STAT 1 and CHEM 15 classes, I decided to shift my course from Civil Engineering to Agricultural Economics. The College Secretary looked at me quizically at the time when I said I was losing sleep over these subjects and I remember to this day him telling me that “sleep is a luxury, and our bodies only need three hours’ sleep a day”. That sealed my decision to shift to the College of Economics and Management.
It’s been two decades since I graduated, and we started catching up regularly once again about two years ago. Thanks to social media, we found one another. I’m happy I’m able to keep in touch with my classmates from Engineering. The first year in a faraway university was gold – and I’ve built a lot of memories together with them.