In the Suburbs: The beauty and benefits of reconnection

I first saw Mike — a copywriter and former colleague from an advertising/public relations agency, who now lives in Fairfield with his family — about three years ago when I was working at the Fairfield University Bookstore. As is typical with these chance meetings, we caught up for about a half hour, talking about work-related “stuff,” the agency folks with whom we stayed in touch and our families.

I still had Mike’s email because years ago I had given him a folder of my then current Citizen pieces and asked for his frank opinion about my work and my writing. We were decades apart in age, but he was an amazing writer and I really valued his feedback. And, of course, after I left the agency, with no reason to maintain contact, we lost touch.

Since I was working and Mike had family obligations, we talked about how great it was to bump into each other, made the usual loose commitment to get together soon, and exchanged phone numbers and emails. He casually mentioned that he still had my folder and would gladly return it now that he knew where to find me.

But at the time, Mike was building his career in New York and the likelihood of our ever getting together was chancy, at best.

That was, until our bookstore displayed his wife’s paintings during our regular monthly exhibitions. His wife was hosting an opening reception on a Friday night, I walked upstairs, admiring the paintings, and he and their daughters were there. Mike proudly introduced his very talented wife, we all chatted and he once again mentioned a get-together. I told him that anytime was fine.

This holiday season in the midst of this seemingly never-ended pandemic, Mike stopped at the bookstore again. A colleague told me he was there and handed me my old folder of Citizen pieces while I was working on the register. As Mike walked up front, I thanked him for taking the time to bring the folder and casually said, “Say, do you want to grab a coffee sometime?”

I told him it would be great to catch up more leisurely. He completely agreed and we met the following Sunday at Penney’s Diner in Fairfield.

That day, I honestly thought we’d chat for maybe an hour about surface subjects and Mike would be on his way to take care of typical Sunday family obligations. Once again, I wondered as I had at the agency, what an old fart teacher and writer could possibly have in common with a busy dad and writer nearly four decades younger. How wrong I was.

In this crazy pandemic world, our timing was absolutely perfect to reconnect. And at the end of nearly two hours, we still had more to talk about: family, parents, kids, grandkids and writing. It turned out that a former writing partner of Mike’s had written a book and was marketing it. He was at somewhat of a crossroads with his own work, trying to figure out his next steps while working at an agency in New York. The only age divide was in numbers, not interests.

When I first thought of this column, I asked Mike whether he’d be all right with my sharing our reconnection with other readers. Here is what he said:

“As far as what makes this reconnection worthwhile — other than the obvious camaraderie shared over the years — I think it’s many things, but here are a few of them...

“After many instances of running into each other at the store and saying we should meet up, it was great (I'm speaking for myself, here) to actually follow through on a commitment for once. Personally, I’m terrible at sticking to things. I’m very disorganized and get easily distracted. So, with the new year upon us, resolutions in our heads and some holiday free time on our side, thankfully, it all came together.

“Another thing: I think our common interest in writing, and even more, our genuine interest in each other’s writing, motivated me to follow through with our plan, and also made for great conversation when we did — in person and via email. And then there’s 2020. And I think last year and everything that came with it has a lot to do with feeling the need to reconnect. As I take stock of many relationships I’ve let atrophy over the years, I look at it like this. With 2020 being a year of such great loss, the greater tragedy is losing the ones we still have. And no matter how deep or casual our relationships may be, we need to keep checking in with each other (and with ourselves, too). I often catch me asking myself, ‘I wonder how so and so is doing? I hope he/she is well.’ And then that’s as far as it goes. And then I say, ‘Well, idiot. Why don’t you actually ask them?’ So, that's what I'm trying to do these days. So far...so-so...I still have a lot of reconnecting to do.”

I really can’t add much more than to say that Mike has been a great editor, giving me excellent feedback on columns and showing genuine interest in reading more. With our busy schedules, we have found that email provides an excellent vehicle for keeping up to date on families and writing. Eventually, we’ll do another catch up over coffee, but for now, email is great.

And the best part of this reconnection for me is how much I have learned about someone I never really knew years ago in that Glastonbury agency and how valuable a friend he has become.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.