Seeing old friends – Part 3: Our identity

Some friends are pretty vividly stuck in your head. You remember all the tiny details.

Which is why the change registers.

This old friend wore a star of david around her neck when we met. She would later invite me to a concert, which so happened to be in a synagogue. She also unapologetically introduced herself as a zionist1, without knowing that the word has a much different context for anyone who grew up in the US. Was she conservative? No. Yes. A bit. She was conservative for a person living in the largest college town in the Baltics. She was perhaps simply a european moderate at an age where her thoughts and beliefs not only had not yet been ironed out. But there was certainly a personality there, as fully formed as any other 25 year old.

In a stereotype of her ethnicity, she was always meticulously groomed and well dressed. Her fashion was her own, and leaned towards a pop-punk casual. It caught attention, and it impressed.

She was a purist for her own language (Russian) and angered at the language’s mishandling in the hands of foreigners. Despite being an otherwise kind person, she had no sympathy for that. To the philosophical works I was studying at the time I knew her, she also had no patience.

And then we parted way for the better part of a decade. In that time, she lived a very full life: married, divorced, moved to London, Berlin, and finally Israel. She ran the gamut of experiences in a fairly enviable way. From following her on Instagram, one could never fully divine what color her hair would next be.

We met again as soon as the pandemic restrictions lifted. For as much as I would like to say that she came to visit me, much of the appeal may have been the promise that Venice was truly empty of tourists at this time. When we met on the train heading to Venice, it truly felt like putting on well fitting clothes. The fires of a true friendship never die, and we were soon talking as if we had never been apart. The person was the same. But the details?

Israel had defeated the zionist in her. Not that she was now against the people or the country, but something in the experience had brought forth the plight of the Palestinians in all this. Experience has rendered complex what was once a simplified worldview. It was not so much that anything had supplanted those memories of school field trips to Auschwitz, but that they had been supplemented in a modern context.

Around her wrist was an LGBT+ bracelet. This was not jarring exactly, but noticeable. This was nothing she had ever been again, but full on allyship was nothing she had ever expressed an interest in (previously having a more libertarian ‘live and let live’ attitude. The rights and dignity of others was first and foremost on her mind.

She had come to even more fully embrace and double down on those aspects of her style that she considered her own. This led to her wearing colors and prints that could best be described as gaudy, and that was the difference. A decade ago she would have thinned this down for the approval of others. Now, she had no concern for that approval. The grooming too took a backseat to her own sense of happiness.

She spoke openly and willingly about her medical issues, some verified and other self-diagnosed.2 The self-diagnosis was a bit of a concern, and I ended up being of two minds about it. On the one hand, it seemed like a strange kind of crutch she insisted on leaning on, using it to excuse some poorer parts of her behavior. But on the other hand, it may actually go into explaining some of her behavior trails from when we knew each other all those years ago

All the details matter. Seeing this old friend was, well, bizarre. It was something akin to seeing an old painting in a new style. The spirit was the same, but the details were different.


1 Because I have a legitimate concern as to how this word will be understood by people whose conception of the word largely comes from the internet, Zionist here really only means “pro-Israel”.

2 I could not be more distrusting of self-diagnosis. I have previously in my life encountered a medical syndrome that came through a community like plague through a war camp: when I was in University, synesthesia became suddenly popular. About a week after I read about, a noticeable percent of the acquaintances in my university were all suddenly afflicted with it. Despite the fact that only about 1% of a population suffer from Grapheme–color synesthesia, a colossal group of people in my school seemed to have it (and for those of you who are wondering how accurate my sample size could be considering the size of a typical university, I went to a very small one, with a population of roughly 300, and so that I met a dozen or so people afflicted by it certainly bucked the trend). I put many of them to the test, and they seemed to be fictionalizing it. The vast majority of them also seemed to be making the same mistake the news article I read had made – talking about synesthesia as if Grapheme-color synesthesia were the only type.

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