Once a month I meet two friends for dinner. We pick a different place each time. I’ll call these guys Theo and Mac.
This past Sunday, just before our gathering, Mac got a call that his stolen car had been found on the other side of town. He had to go retrieve it. So it was just Theo and me, and we decided to meet in Theo’s garage, where he’d set up a table and some folding chairs. Theo’s a skilled cyclist, an equally skilled mechanic, and his garage is full of bikes and tools. Cool spot for a drink.
A former bartender, Theo also makes a mean martini. And so he and I sat there in his garage on a chilly, windy night, the door open, the temperature dropping, and we talked. We talked about our families and our work. We talked about Mac’s stolen car and the current state of Portland. We talked about the underreported new wave of the meth epidemic. And as we talked, it struck me that all through the pandemic so far, these meetings have been markers in our lives. Way stations.
Early on, we met in front of the local high school and brought our camp chairs. Sometimes we met in one of our backyards. Later, we met on the back deck at the pub. Wherever we went, though, there was the sense of refuge and solace. We had navigated another month of sometimes perilous stresses. We’d lived another month of sometimes overlooked joys. We had managed to reconvene.
We love our families. We’re devoted family men. But the monthly dinners have become important parts of our lives, too.
It occurred to me the other night also, there in Theo’s garage, that our lives do still feel pared down. That fact remains. The pandemic-spurred realizations have begun to fuse into habit.
What matters most to us? And what do we now find ourselves refusing to abide? Who and what nourishes us, bolsters our souls — and who or what, even after sincere effort in some cases, consistently feels like empty calories or worse?
Simplify, the wise souls have often instructed. And so we’ve simplified. We’ve made calm decisions about how to use our time. There’s still the element of surreality and wonder to these days, and occasionally some discomfort: is this indeed our new normal? But there’s an equal measure of gratitude and a sense of beginning. We’ve entered a territory of new definitions and dawnings, and we’ve come upon an intriguing path that will surely take courage now and then.
There’s no turning back.
As Theo and I sat there in our jackets and hats and ate our takeout burritos — as the winds went on sweeping through the doorway and we sipped at another drink — we knew that Mac would join us when he could, or he would join us next time, stories in tow.
Because one thing we always do, after we say goodbye: We get in touch the following day or two and circle another date on the calendar. I’ve come to understand how much I like this part of our tradition.
Up ahead, we know, there’s a gathering where three guys can be themselves and hang out for a while. Where frank talk, belief in each other, and some laughs await. Put us in a garage or an open field, put us in the wilderness, put us in a huge river of time on a humble but sturdy raft, and we’ll be there. In the moment. Phones put away.