“It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant.”
When you’re young and you watch Stand By Me, it’s a great adventure about a bunch of friends looking for a dead body. When you grow up a bit, it’s a great adventure with a sad ending because River Phoenix and his character both met untimely ends, making it poignant when he fades out while walking away. When you reach adulthood, it’s that line I quoted above that gets you.
Stand By Me is narrated by Richard Dreyfus, playing the grown-up version of Wil Wheaton‘s character. He’s a writer and is writing about the adventure he and his friends had when they were 12, inspired by the news that his former best friend Chris (Phoenix) had just been killed. At the end of the story, as the boys get back to their town and go off to their homes, the narration reveals how soon they drifted apart, even Gordie and Chris ended up not seeing each other for a decade before the latter’s death.
In the original story by Stephen King, you find out that both Teddy and Vern had also died young, which is omitted in the film and I think that actually helps make it more sad. They didn’t die, but they still grew apart from Gordie and no matter how close they all were at the time, it wasn’t enough to prevent their friendships fading out like Chris as he walked into the distance. The older I get, the more true you realise that is.
At every stage of my life I’ve had some really good friends, but so many of them aren’t a part of my life now, because it’s so easy to lose touch when you’re growing up. When you’re at school with people, you have the shared everyday experiences that bind you together, but once that ends, quite often you don’t have enough of a connection to stay close friends, so as each phase of your life comes to an end, you gradually end up leaving behind people who had seemed so important to you at the time.
Watching Stand By Me this week was particularly affecting to me this week because of a few things that are going on in my life at the moment, where I’m hopefully seeing a few old friends for the first time in years, while a possible change in circumstances means that I might be seeing a lot less of some people who have become a special part of my life over the last few years. One of the great things about social media is that it’s easy to keep some contact with people you don’t see much of, but it can’t replace the fun and warmth you get from everyday contact with great people.
Of course, losing that contact with some people is an inevitable part of growing up, leaving school, changing jobs, moving house, etc, and Stand By Me’s ending taps into that feeling that we lose a piece of ourselves when it happens. It’s not a completely sad ending though. Gordie may have grown up and lost the friends he’d loved as a 12-year-old, but he was presumably married and had a son of his own. I’m lucky enough to be married to my best friend and I’ve got no plans to ever lose daily contact with her. And if I ever take the friends I have for granted, maybe I only need to watch Stand By Me to know that I need to make more effort to keep in touch with them.
So, if you’ll excuse a soppy ending to this particular story, this is for all of my friends, both past and present. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep more of you in the present than the past…