“You know who I miss?” my daughter asked.
I knew who she was going to say, but know-it-alls make for lousy conversationalists. So I asked, “Who?”
“Izzy and Savannah.”
Ah, yes. The girls had lived next door to us for a couple of years and had doted on my daughter, who was a few years younger than they were. They’d let her toddle after them in games of tag and even catch them when she grew tired of running. They’d been her confidants, role models, and hair stylists.
Then they moved. And all that remained were a few cellphone snapshots and the memories.
My daughter is four. She hasn’t switched schools or swapped states. She doesn’t know that she will spend most of her childhood making friends that she won’t see after adulthood gets its grips on her.
She doesn’t yet know that — if she is fortunate — she will spend a lot of her life missing people.
“Do you remember Uncle Kyle?” I asked my daughter. “Uncle Kyle is my best friend. But I don’t get to see him much anymore,” I said.
“Do you miss him, too?”
“You only get to pick one, Dad.”
“I guess I don’t miss him — miss anyone, really — because their absence doesn’t negate the friendship. Just because they’re gone, the love doesn’t have to change,” I said.
I realized I was lying, even as I spoke the words. I missed a lot of people. I keep a list of friends whom I owe a phone call or at least an email to in my planner, and it never seems to get any shorter.
My daughter sighed, and I sensed my opportunity to have a meaningful conversation evaporating.
“Do you like sandcastles?” I said.
“Do you like making snowmen?”
“I like cocoa,” she said.
“Do you like when the lilacs blossom and make the whole block smell like fresh laundry?”
“Are those the purple flowers?”
“I like them.”
“What do the flowers do when they’re done blooming?” I asked.
“What happens to sandcastles in the rain?”
“They wash away.”
“Every friendship is a season,” I said. “And every season is beautiful, even if it doesn’t last forever — especially because it doesn’t last forever.”
My daughter says nothing. I wondered if she was still awake.
Then she finally replied, “I still miss my friends.”
My brain whirred with poetic ways to restate my point. I thought about the Buddha and viparinama-dukkha. I thought about Kahlil Gibran and nearly told a 4-year-old that “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
Then I pictured the faces of friends whom I hadn’t seen in years. Nowadays, most of my friends only hear from me when it’s their birthday or when a family member dies. Even then, I usually just send a text.
My birthday wishes usually come with a promise to get together real soon. I never mean it disingenuously, but, well, kids take a lot of time. And the next year I end up promising the same thing.
“I miss my friends, too,” I admitted, “even Kyle.”
I reached for my daughter’s hair and a final thought jostled loose from my crowded brain.
“It can be sad when people leave your life,” I said. “It feels like a hole in your soul, but their absence makes space for something new, too. So sure, I miss my friends. But I have no regrets about how I spend my time nowadays.”
I looked at my daughter to see if she’d understood me, but she was already asleep.