Dale was crazy. That’s why I liked him. He could always, I mean always, make me laugh. Whether we were hanging out at the mall, playing pick-up basketball in a park, sitting in Sunday school, or giving serious speeches in Mr. Olson’s civics class, a mere glance from Dale could slay me. On more than one occasion I was sent out of the room because I couldn’t regain my composure.

Dale and I had more in common than hijinks and humor, however; we had countless conversations, at all hours of the day and night, about everything from pop music to current events to the meaning of life. We also had soul-searching talks about our fears, our futures, our relationships. This was no light-weight relationship. We saw each other through the strum and strang of adolescence. Like two war veterans, we helped each other survive. At journey’s end, however, the friendship faded. I haven’t seen Dale, my high-school confidant, since the day we graduated.

How does a once-bosom buddy wind up a distant memory? And is a friendship that fades away necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so. There is a line in James Michener’s novel, Centennial, that speaks to how even good friendships can be fleeting: ". . . he wished he could ride forever with these men . . . but it could not be. Trails end, and companies of men fall apart."

Some friendships are meant to be transitory. Like cowboys who ride herd together for miles, sharing both dusty perils and round-the-campfire coffee, we all have friendships that come to their natural end. Not because of discontent or lack of interest. Simply because the road has run out. We’ve hit the end of the trail together and it’s time to move on to other things, other companies of men.

Understand, these are not failed friendships. Not at all. They are friendships of the road, equally intense, equally necessary, equally worth cultivating and treasuring as the long-lasting versions. We couldn’t survive without them. They get us through a particular stretch of road, and for that we can be grateful. Sure, I regret not staying in touch with Dale-photos of him still crack me up-and other friends who’ve shared a portion of my path. I even fantasize about reviving or repairing some bygone relationships. But with most long-lost friends I know I’d have little in common now. Our bond lies in the past, irretrievable except for the memories. The composer Beethoven must have understood this when he said, "Friends are not only together when they are side by side, even one who is far away is still in our thoughts." The friends we meet along life’s road make the journey joyful.