Last week I ran into a former colleague with whom I worked for more than 30 years. I hadn’t seen him in more than 10 years. He looked awful. Gray straggly beard, unkempt hair, too thin. His gait was unsteady and his handshake weak. I was worried for him.

“Hi Ted, great to see you! How have you been?” I said. And it was great to see  him, I always liked Ted.

“Okay, I guess,” he said, “considering.”

“That sounds ominous, anything in particular?”

“Not really, just feeling old. But you look great!” he said to me.

“You do, too!” I lied. How else does one respond to that? And I’m sure he was lying, too. He hadn’t seen me in more than a decade, how great could I have looked to him?

We then talked about our adult kids, our lives since we last saw each other, our plans for the next few years. There were scattered more lies along the way. We should get together for a drink, we should meet each other’s families, we should go to a ballgame. And then we gave each other a quick hug and both realized as we walked away that none of those things would happen. We each have our own lives and friends, the past was past, and we had both moved on. Even when younger, we didn’t go for a drink, meet each other’s families, or go to a ballgame. We were colleagues, friends at work, but then also we had our own lives.

I think sometimes, and probably in my visit with Ted, saying “you look nice,” after years of not seeing someone, is code for “nice to see you’re alive and upright.” I told another friend, my age, about exchanging the “you look nice” fibs with Ted. This friend suggested, “you look nice” is one way of saying, “you’ve looked worse.”

It was nice to see Ted. That wasn’t a lie. And these kind of superficial interactions and polite fibbing happen to younger people, too. I remember them from my younger days. But as we get older, and the time for making future plans shortens, the lies feel more like real lies, less like polite fibs.

I wish Ted all the best.

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