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The dialogue of H.W. Mason's Old Friends begins with two friends, one an accomplished pianist, the other a professional translator, sparring with one another on a transatlantic telephone call. Now in their 60s, both have debilitating and potentially fatal illnesses. Sean struggles with advanced Parkinson's disease and tells his friend in Paris not to visit him in New Jersey. "I don't want you to see me as I am. Remember me as I was." Chris, who lives in Paris, has terminal cancer but does not reveal this to his old friend. One's first reaction to this scene is that Chris wants to see his friend one last time for his own sake. However, we learn that Sean's children have shared their deep concern about their father's depressed state of mind with him. Chris, we learn, is physically debilitated from lengthy chemotherapy infusions and the advanced stage of stomach cancer. It is difficult for him to walk for any distance, he no longer can eat to sustain his strength.


Sean pleads great fatigue and inability to care or cook for himself.


In fact, other than a greatly appreciated home health nurse his only solace is his piano. It is only when he touches the keys of his piano and improvises music that he feels human.


Chris won't let his friend fend him off. He always carefully ends each phone call with wry humor when his old friend complains of fatigue. Over successive phone conversations, the two friends reminisce about their travels to exotic countries and experiences with important women in their lives. Eventually, Chris gets his friend to relent to a visit. Their friendship is based on meta messages and opposing views in almost every realm. Sean wonders why Chris wants to see him at all since he really doesn't understand or agree with him about much of anything. But Chris tells him, "What are friends for but to get things all wrong. When getting them right, they know they would hurt you." Sean relentlessly presses to reveal the details of his physical and mental state, while also reminding Chris of his difficult youth, divorce, and other failures essentially saying that he is, in fact, a miserable person to know. He despises sentimentality and sincerity, hates the idea that anyone would trust him. Essentially, he is telling Chris that now the only thing that matters to him is his pride. But their way of being with one another, their argumentative and joking relationship reemerges in the transatlantic phone calls and Sean realizes that he does have a deep connection with Chris, that it does matter to him. He trusts their friendship.


When Chris manages to make the transatlantic flight despite serious physical symptoms, he is fearful that he will never see his beloved Paris again[horizontal ellipsis] and it is Paris where he wants to die. He recalls then Sean telling him on a trip they made together to Ireland that he wants to die looking out at the fields and bogs by the ocean in the abandoned stone cottage of his ancestors.


When Chris's airplane lands in New Jersey, he cannot rise out of his seat, wheelchair assistance is necessary. Coming into the reception hall, he is stunned to see not only Sean's children waiting for him but Sean himself. Both men recognize the other's frailty but deal with it saying all the wrong and humorous things that they have always said to help one another get through difficult times. It is a heartbreakingly poignant moment that plumbs our own fear of loss, reminding us that deep friendship transcends time and loss and has the power to sustain spirit and hope.




1. Mason HW. Old Friends. In press.