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  September 16, 2011
A Lifetime of Friends...


1961 was a decent year I suppose.  It was the last year that can be read the same way - upside down or right side up - until 6009 that is. 

That year, the United States inaugurated a new president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  Construction of the Berlin Wall began.  The cold war was in full bloom.

The average salary was only $5,300 but the average house cost $12,600 (less than 2 ½ times the average salary).  Then again...the average house was only 1100 square feet...no gated communities...no air conditioning...no swimming pool.

Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was the first man in space.  TWA showed the first in-flight movie.  Pampers disposable diapers were introduced. 

The top grossing movie in 1961 was the Disney animated film "101 Dalmatians" raking in a cool $68.6M as compared with the second place film "West Side Story" with a paltry $19.6M (although West Side Story did win the Oscar for the best picture of the year).  Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis topped the music charts all summer long.  Westerns were all the rage on television...Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Wagon Train ruled the Nielsen rating that year.

1961 was also the year that several of my friends were born into the world...a world where a sitting President urged people to build bomb shelters in their backyards, attempted to invade Cuba, and had a nuclear stand-off with communism but yet also founded the Peace Corps to help the less fortunate of the world.

I was driving to work this week thinking about all the people I know who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their birth in 2011.  I began to wonder about the hierarchy of people who populate our lives and attempted to order their significance.  The people are neatly arranged in a pyramid with only a small handful of people on the top and billions of people on the bottom.  Now I’m sure that there are other ways to categorize people...but here’s my way:

  1. Best Friends Forever - These are the people we attended Kindergarten with 45 years ago...went off to summer camp with...double dated with on prom night...joined the same fraternity while away at college...were in each other’s weddings (at least your first weddings), babysat our kids when we needed a quiet night out with our spouse and helped us to tend for our aging parents (those same parents who were perhaps our Little League coaches or Girl Scout leaders).  These are people you played with in the morning, fought with in the afternoon, and laughed with until your mom told the both of you to "be quiet and go to bed".  They know us sometimes better than we know ourselves.  These are the same friends who will someday give the moving eulogy at your funeral...they’re with you for the entire cycle of life.  Forever.
  2. Friends - These are the people we have many common interests or years of shared experiences with.  They are people whom we care deeply about and try our best to remain in contact with despite our busy schedules.  These are the friends we play poker with a few times a year...watch our favorite sports teams with on a Saturday afternoon...and drag to the local tavern to sip a few beers on a "boy’s night" out...with them, we reminisce about past adventures and/or old mutual friends that you just ran into at the airport.  These are people who helped us to create great memories.  These are the people who weave seamlessly in and out of our lives. These are the people who help us to celebrate life and death.
  3. Acquaintances - These are people we know...but really don’t spend much time with, other than perhaps seeing them at our kids’ Christmas pageant or waving to them as they drive past our house.  It isn’t that we dislike them...we just don’t have the time to give them much thought.  They are typically really nice people but we never really made a connection with them, created any memorable adventures, or had a lot of shared experiences (other than perhaps the experience of sharing the driving duty in the morning carpool).  We feel uncomfortable asking acquaintances for favors.  We knew these people in the past but our lives have now separated. 
  4. ??? - These are people who we know of...but we really don’t know.  They may be known to us because of their celebrity such as a movie star or local sports hero.  They may be people that our other friends talk about (which I suppose is another form of celebrity).  We may have read about them and the lives that they lead in a book or newspaper.  We might read their blog each week.  They may be that person who’s name we see on the guest register - the one that rests on the receptionist’s desk of a local manufacturing company - as we ask ourselves..."who is this person who is always visiting all my customers?".  We don’t know them...but would be open to perhaps meeting them if the opportunity presents itself.
  5. Strangers - These are people we don’t know and who do not know us.  Strangers constitute the overwhelming majority of the people in the world.  There are approximately 6 billion people who inhabit the earth and if you combine all of the people in the above 4 categories...you may be able to estimate that they represent perhaps no more than 50 thousand people (these are all the people you’ve ever met or have a certain familiarity with over the course of a lifetime)...this leaves us some 5,999,950,000 strangers still to meet (although I believe that roughly a third of those people do have a Facebook account).
I’m somewhat unsure as to what to call the people in between acquaintances and strangers.  Those people you know of...but haven’t met yet.  In preparing for this blog, I actually wrote to the folks at the PBS’s radio show "A Way with Words" trying to see if they had a good word for these people.  Unexpectedly, I received no response...nothing...nada.  Oh well...I guess one day I’ll need to coin a new word for this group of people (drop me a note if you know of such a word).

The group of people that I didn’t include in the above but who could be dispersed equally in all five categories are relatives.  These are people who share our DNA.  They may be our BFF twin sister or a simply a far distant relative that you didn’t even know existed.  Placing relative in the pyramid is tricky.

Each and every day I feel blessed to have so many great friends and acquaintances.  They came from blood, school, work and the neighborhood.  With them, I’ve built a lifetime of memories all within only a "half-a-lifetime" time period (or at least I hope so).

It makes me happy to be invited to toast their milestones and celebrate friendship this year.

This weekend, I hope you’re spending your time with the people who bring you joy and happiness whether at a 50th birthday party or just sitting around doing nothing.

Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we hope to be counted as one of your friends one day.

Jim Kalb



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