We have met the enemy and he is us.
I wonder if anyone really truly believes this. So easy to buy into the lie that life is like a racetrack, a seemingly endless series of laps, a delusion
fueled by a culture that worships youth and marginalizes its elders.
I remember rolling my eyes when my mother and her friends launched into a litany of aches, pains and funeral reviews. I vowed I would never allow my world to shrink so small, become so focused on myself. I would be involved with life – would have far more important things to think about.
But to my chagrin, I find myself actively participating in these conversations with my friends nowadays. It is, after all, what is happening to us. One more thing to add to my list of things I vowed I would never do.
What I hadn’t counted on about growing old is that nothing stays the
same for very long. Some days are full of hope and good fortune. I am brimming over with gratitude for my friends, my family, my reasonably good health. Other days it takes all the strength I can summon to put one foot in front of the other, to stay the course.
If we haven’t learned life lessons along the way, if we don’t have friends and loved ones around us, if we don’t have creative outlets that give us joy, God help us. Because the older we get, the larger the challenges, the bigger the losses, the less we control.
Living a successful old age is hard work, in my opinion. I need all the resources I can muster. But no matter what my situation, I am in charge of the path I take. I always have choices.
And in the final analysis, it’s not that the road ends, it’s where it ends that matters.
Lately I find myself thinking about death a lot. Not in a morbid sense, just reflecting on the reality of it. The necessity of death for the rebirth of spring. The triumph of spring over the desolation of winter.
I’m not afraid of death, exactly. I’m not eager for it, but it’s harder to “fit in” to the world around me now and I don’t want to outlive my expiration date. I’m just not finished yet, there is still more to do, more to be.
This surprises me. By now I expected to be wise, surefooted and content to sit placidly with a cat or two, awash in memories of a life well lived.
Guess not. Maybe in a year or two.
Years before Millennials coined BFF (text-talk for Best Friends Forever), we were Friends For Life. (FFL). We were in primary school together.
No one knows you like those you grow up with. Posturing is pointless around these folks. They always knew whether you were clumsy or a basketball star, could or shouldn’t sing, nerdy or poor at math, pretty and popular or not so much… whatever you were. And they still know.
If you think time stops when you visit your college roommate, try re-connecting with your third-grade nemesis who played Mary in the Christmas pageant while you sweltered under a scratchy sheep costume. Or your senior classmate elected “Miss Popularity” while you were voted “Most Likely to Travel.” Or the Football Sweetheart beaming on the arm of the football captain at the Prom while you slinked in accompanied by a truculent cousin. You’ll pick up exactly where you left off, like it or not.
Having now achieved a certain age, I have come to treasure these friendships, even though I lived far away from them for many years. All is forgiven now — well almost all. So after the obligatory family news updates, the “do you remember’s” take over. “Do you remember the time the home-ec teacher ripped out all our aprons and made us start over the week before finals? Or the time Becky stole secret photographs of her sister and sold them to neighborhood boys? Or the summer that June and Vicky drove twenty miles every Wednesday night to meet their boyfriends while their mothers thought they were at vacation bible school? Or the day Wanda backed her daddy’s car all the way home from the lake trying to run back the miles on the odometer? Or the time Jane burned her tongue trying to smoke cornsilk? Or how we used to “Dive and Duck” under the desks for bomb drills? And so it goes until we’re all hoarse from laughing. There is just nothing else like it.
But there is more here than nostalgia. Our bond was created by an accident of birth that consigned us to the same zip code for our most formative years. We weren’t friends because we chose each other. We were friends because we knew each other. Our parents knew each other. In most cases, our grandparents knew each other. Many of us were cousins. We went to the same churches. We stood in line together for school vaccinations, we rode the same school-bus, went to the same Saturday afternoon movies. We had crushes on the same cute boys, cheered the football team together and wore the same ugly gym suits. Community was a given. We absorbed it like the summer heat. Even when we didn’t like each other, we belonged together. And we still do.
I have many beautiful friendships that came later in life. They have enriched, supported and inspired me. They are no less cherished, but they are different. They did not spring from what I will call generational community. By definition, generational communities accept and take responsibility for their members. We found a place for Linda on our softball team even though she never hit the ball. When Sandy’s ill-tempered little dog Princess died, we cried together. And today, if Sarah needs a ride to the clinic, even though we may cringe at her political views, one of us is there.
These days we choose our friends. People we work with, who share our hobbies, political views, churches, professional organizations. But we may live for years next door to families we wouldn’t recognize at the grocery store. And I think we are poorer for it. If I don’t know my neighbor, I can’t help my neighbor; my neighbor cannot help me. If I hide behind a cloak of anonymity, does anyone really know who I am? Do I?
All of my friends have been and continue to be teachers in my life. But my first grade friends were my first teachers. They taught me the meaning of community. And the lessons we learned together in our first community have supported and united us through the hills and gullies of our lives. That’s why we’re Friends for Life.
“Nobody sees a flower – really
it is so small it takes time –
we haven’t time –
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”
Not so long ago, time stretched ahead in an endless ribbon winding out of sight to unlimited possibility and opportunity. There would always be time. To do more, have more, be more. Or ..to change course.
But the paths were one-way, constantly bifurcating. With each decision well reasoned or impetuous, other paths and their tributaries were lost to view. Still, there was more time, surely.
Then inevitably, imperceptibly, my path narrowed and led me here. Now the path ahead is straighter. There will be fewer opportunities, fewer choices. Each moment counts.
It’s time to take time.