I’ve been thinking a lot about friends lately, how much I love and cherish the people in my life who drive me crazy and keep me sane.
Thinking back about friends who have come and gone, and those who have been consistent, I realized that a circle of friends is like the cast of a long running TV show. There are a core of regulars, cast members who are in every episode; we can count on them being in every episode, if one of them is missing you know there’s a reason why. Then there are semi-regulars, people who are part of the character’s world but don’t show up every time we tune in, then there are characters (sometimes great characters) who show up for an episode and then disappear. Sometimes these one shot character makes such an impression that they keep coming back, and sometimes a semi-regular becomes a main character. I think the lesson here is pretty obvious; we have people who are permanent fixtures in our lives and people who come and go, and people who show up for a short time and then disappear.
When I was in High School one of my favorite Television shows was M*A*S*H. It mixed comedy and drama seamlessly, the acting was brilliant and the writing was some of the best in the history of Television. The show handled the replacement of lead characters better than most, M*A*S*H took place in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. The show ran 11 years (8 years longer than the Korean War) and had some major cast changes.
Here’s what M*A*S*H did right when someone left the show; they replace them with a totally new character (who filled the same basic role). As an example: for the first five years of the show the main antagonist was Frank Burns (Larry Linville), an irritating, whining wimp who kissed ass, slavishly followed rules (except the one about cheating on his wife) and irritated everyone around him. When he left the series, he was replaced by Charles Emerson Winchester the Third (David Ogden Stiers), a pompous, rich snob who looked down his regal nose at everyone around him…he still irritated the hell out of everyone, but he was anything but an ass kissing wimp. We missed Frank, but Winchester was a great character and the show took on some super new directions with him on board.
Here’s the sucky truth: our circle of friends is going to change, especially during times when our whole lives are changing (finishing schools, new jobs, moving, marriage, kids). Strangers become acquaintances, acquaintances become close friends and sometimes close friends move out of our lives. The secret to surviving it all is to M*A*S*H it up. Let new people in. They can’t replace the friends we’ve lost, but they can keep us laughing and touch our hearts, if we let them be who they are and not who we think we need them to be.