Rich Wilhelm

Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Copco Lake Five Year Photo Guys and the Art of Time Standing Still

In Friendship on September 26, 2012 at 2:59 am

Maybe you saw the story this summer about the five guys who took a photo of themselves at a lake back in 1982 when they were 19 years old. They have restaged the photo every five years since then.

The same five guys. The same location, Copco Lake in California.

This is a classic feel good story that happened to emerge during a week when it seems as though many people needed something to feel happy about.

I read about these guys on CNN’s website and enjoyed the story, without thinking about it too much in that moment. However, I have found with the passage of a day or so, that the story has really gotten into my head and heart.

What I’m finding is that the stories that have emerged on CNN and elsewhere and, of course, the photos themselves, are creating more questions in my head than they are answering. I find myself wondering about the demographics of these five guys: what are their political, social, religious views? How have these views changed over the decades and how have those changes affected the dynamic of the friendships?

And then there are questions like “I wonder who each guy in these photos considers his best friend among the other four?” and “How does the friendship dynamic change when two, three or four of the guys are together with the rest not around?” And, of course, it’s hard not to wonder if there haven’t been fallings out through the years.

Lots of questions emerge, which are wisely not answered by the photos themselves. And, while I have those questions, ultimately I don’t think I want to know the answers, as this is really none of my business.

What emerges from the photos is the fact that five guys who have apparently known each other most of their lives still like hanging out together. And that is all we really need to know.

I do know that if I had been part of a photo like this with four of my friends when I was 19 (in 1984) that I can very clearly tell you who two of the other guys in that photo would have been but I can’t say for certain who the other two would be, as some of my friendships were in a state of flux at that point. I can also say that, once the five-year-tradition started, there surely would have been years in which not all of five of us would have showed up. In some of those years, I would have been the one who chose to miss the picture.

None of the five Copco Lake guys have ever missed a five-year photo.

In the wake of the media attention, some readers/viewers have focused on the toll the years have taken on some/all of the Copco Lake guys. I understand the interest in that, especially given how superficial we all can be about physical appearance, but again I’m way more fascinated by the many, many strands of experience and memory and friendship that the photos represent than I am by how paunchy or gray-haired some of the Copco guys may have gotten. And anyway, being in the same general age bracket as these guys, I’ve got my own gray hairs and other signs of the aging process to confront.

Some people might look at the Copco Lake photos as some kind of exercise in nostalgia but to me this is just as much about now and the future as it is about the past. The photos (and more importantly, the process of making sure they get taken every five years) remind me very much of the Rush song, “Time Stand Still,” in which the narrator notes:

“I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now.”

Yes, of course, the Copco Lake guys have a shared past that bonds them, but they seem pretty comfortable being friends with each other as they find themselves now. And I guess that is what will allow the friendships to move forward into the future. That seems to be what would allow any of our friendships to move through our lives with us, rather than become static memories.

In any event, I consider myself lucky to have made many great friends throughout my lifetime, and even luckier to realize that nearly every one of those friendships still exists in some form (even those friendships that got bruised a bit or went dormant for awhile along the way). The Copco Lake guys are reminding me that I really ought to celebrate the friendships I have and to see to it that these friendships live as much in the present as they are rooted in the past.

Thanks for that reminder, Copco Lake guys.

You can see the rest of the Copco Lake guys’ photos here:

Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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