Imagine you have new neighbors a few houses up the street. They're about your age and stage in life and they seem pretty cool. After seeing each other in passing a few times, you invite them over for a cookout. Turns out you have similar educations and interests, hobbies and politics, all that. Cool! We should do this again!
Some time goes by, and you worry that maybe they didn't like you as much as you like them - ack! (Remember that episode of Friends, when Chandler and Monica met another couple who they thought they hit it off with, but the other couple totally blew them off? Gah!!!! If only Mr. Sandyshoes didn't have answers for everything! If only I didn't pepper my conversation with so many Star Wars and/or Monty Python references!)
But then they do invite you over. It's all good. And it keeps happening. As the years go by, you get together often, spontaneously or planned, with children or, too rarely, without.
The kids are close in age, and all like each other and play well together, even as they go through their various phases and stages. At Thanksgivings, when their teachers ask them what they're thankful for, they name each other. It's lovely to see that they're constants in each other's lives, as they learn to swim and read, as tricycles give way to training wheels, to be cast aside in triumph soon enough. It just feels good to know they'll eventually be getting on the school bus all together every day. There's no guaranteeing they'll always want to hang out together, but they'll have the comfort of having known each other virtually all their lives, and the security of knowing they are always loved and welcome in each other's homes.
Traditions begin to form around shared activities and holidays and maybe an annual summer camping trip. You trust each other's judgment and outlook; you know that you'll be there for each other, whatever need arises.
Now imagine that these cool neighbors, these friends who now seem more like family (in a good way!), have to move almost a thousand miles away.
We've known for months that it's happening, and now the moving van is coming in just a few days. Still, it doesn't seem real.
All of us have lived enough years in enough places to know that distance does not break friendship. But we're sad, just now.