OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: Learning the value of old guys sitting around a table

You know it’s old friends, after all

When I was much younger, I would sometimes spot a group of men a lot older than me gathered at a big table in a restaurant enjoying a meal together while engaged in back-and-forth conversation. They were there when I arrived at the restaurant and still lingering as I got up to leave. I wondered why they stayed so long.

Now I know. Today I'm one of those older men lingering at that big table because the fellowship is meaningful and the conversation is enjoyable. It's time well spent.

We may be more connected now than ever through cell phones and social media but what still counts most is face-to-face human interaction. It makes for a happier, healthier and more interesting life. Regardless of one's age, being around people you enjoy, respect and learn from is nourishing and one of the keys to a good life.

As I've aged, one of the ways I've discovered to stay connected to old friends and make new friends is by being part of a group of guys that regularly meet to share a scheduled meal together. I'm a part of four such groups, all very different in nature and composition but all with shared purposes -- an opportunity for fellowship, conversation, storytelling, laughter and a sense of belonging.

There's the morning group that gathers every Saturday with Lee Ward as the ringleader. He makes the restaurant arrangements and notifies us where to meet. Most who come are retired or approaching retirement while a handful are still in the prime of their careers. It's fun to spend time talking and laughing with these guys. The humorous, good-natured banter is plentiful and always entertaining. It's just a bunch of good guys having a bunch of good fun.

It's an intelligent, eclectic group at the Saturday breakfast, people who have been successful in their respective professions and longtime contributors to others and to their community. There's a diversity of opinions around the table about a variety of subjects, including politics, which makes for lively, interesting conversation. This group is living proof it's still possible in this country to discuss politics with friends in a civil manner without letting a difference of opinion get in the way of a friendship.

Then there's a lunch club named Old Guys Talking Sports (OGTS) that meets several times a month. Established in January 2018, this club is the brainchild of Bob Anderson, who understood men connect through a mutual love of sports and that one of the ways we measure the passage of time is through sports.

Anderson does all the work to make these luncheons happen; the rest of us just show up. An added attraction is Anderson's rule that political discussion is strictly prohibited. It's a politics-free zone, a welcome respite these days for everyone. Attendees, whose average age probably equates to a jersey number worn by an offensive or defensive tackle, are a collection of seasoned men from varied walks of life but with a common interest in sports.

The centerpiece of OGTS gatherings is Razorback sports. Anderson lines up excellent speakers, most of whom have a past or current connection to Arkansas athletics. Sometimes, Anderson himself prepares and delivers an interesting and informative Powerpoint presentation related to Razorback athletics, which often triggers a robust conversation in the room.

Old friendships are the gold standard but we never get too old to forge new friendships. I've been blessed to have made a lot of new friends through my involvement in Old Guys Talking Sports.

Another gathering is the monthly Old Men's Breakfast Club meeting. By a slim margin, I'm the youngest member of this club. At breakfast I'm surrounded by excellence -- men with high achievements in their life's work and notable difference-makers for Northwest Arkansas. Many are men I've looked up to for years who helped and encouraged me along the way. Being with them is an enriching hour each month.

I'd be remiss not to mention a lunch group I've been a part of for decades. It's mostly a table of fellow lawyers, all good friends. We don't just talk about lawyer stuff. We talk about everything, both the important and unimportant. No matter the topic, it's always a fine conversation. These guys have well-developed senses of humor and are great storytellers. Through the years there has been a lot of laughter and good times at that table. I've enjoyed it immensely.

As the song says: "People who need people are the luckiest people." I'm very lucky to have many wonderful people in my life.

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