Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm Thankful for Old Friends, but Mostly for New Memories

The night of high school graduation, in the midst of the chaos of 700 graduating seniors on the football field and a threatening rainstorm, a group of 7 or 8 of us who had all been together through all of school ended up in the same place at the same time. Many of us had long-since drifted apart, but I think we knew that at some level we could all still count on one another. In just a couple months time, we would all be headed in new and mostly different directions. We were young and didn't know the terrible and wonderful things that awaited us over the next year . . . the next ten years. One of our group said, "You guys, no matter where we go or what we do, it will always be like this."

Uh . . . I might have been young, but I wasn't naive. And I was more than ready to move on.

My friend was right in some respects, and there were times, hard times, when we were there for each other. But there were other times too. Times that we weren't there for each other, and not merely because of distance. Some of it was by choice.

Then, through the miracle of Facebook, we learned that Pocohantas' mother died suddenly in a terrible car accident in October. (If you want to learn more about Pocohantas, see this post from a couple of years ago. It might be helpful because she figures into my posting every now and then.) Within two days the "old gang" was contacted and we agreed to get together for lunch the day before Thanksgiving. I think the death of our friend's mother, brought us together in a way that enough passage of time had not been able to.

I was admittedly nervous about the get-together. It has been many years since we've all seen one another. This was also my group of friends that I never felt I quite measured up to. I always felt like I was on the fringe of their group: student body officers, a head cheerleader, seminary council, a couple of amazing singers . . . you get the picture. I think I was best known through high school as the girl with a series of crazy hairdos in junior high, the one most likely to adapt a Saturday Night Live skit for an assembly and a charter member of the Save Our Earth Club. What mostly characterized my separateness from the group, however, is that I never had a boyfriend. These girls always did. And not just any boyfriends--the big men on campus types. The kind of boys who would never have even thought twice about dating my could-pass-for-a-chubby-12-year-old self.

If you know that Taylor Swift song, "You Belong With Me," you can pretty well peg exactly who I was during that era. Only the girl who was the cheer captain was also one of my closest friends, and eventually a roommate. Talk about awkward.

So why dredge all this up? Stay with me here.

Fast-forward to lunch in November 2009. The conversation was wonderfully thick with happy reminiscences of a time which so shaped us that we never quite put it behind us as we moved on. While we sat talking and laughing and sharing stories and marveling at how good we each looked, I realized something really profound: I am no longer intimidated by these women.

My feeling isn't based on any kind of comparison, they are each as wonderful and successful as ever. But being with them on that pleasant afternoon showed me that I have finally grown up enough to learn to just enjoy their company and their personalities without needing to prove anything to anybody. Without wishing that I could trade places with any one of them for any length of time. Without any petty jealousy.

Perhaps even deeper than my feeling of being totally at ease in the company of such old friends, however, was feeling completely devoid of judgment toward any of the women at the table. Our lives have taken a lot of turns and twists. In times past I have found myself highly critical of my old friends for various reasons. Perhaps you will think this sounds awful? I hope so: It means that you've already overcome this comparison obstacle, or that you never had to in the first place.

One particular friend, whose story I will not share the details of, as it is her story to tell, went through a few very difficult years. Partly as a result of difficult circumstances, and partly because of her own choices removing herself from those circumstances. As she and I said our goodbyes I hugged her and told that I was especially glad to see her, that I thought we hadn't stood by her very well in her difficult time, both because we didn't know how to, but also because we had just failed.

She smiled, a genuine smile of forgiveness, and said, "You know, I would never repeat the last five years of my life, or wish it on anyone, but it was worth it to be where I am now. I'm really happy."

You know, I would never repeat those high school years of my life, even the great parts. But all of the angst was worth it to be where I am now. I'm really happy just being myself. I hope we don't wait ten years before reuniting again. On that graduation night, when one of our crowd said, "It will always be like this," she was, of course, wrong; but maybe her sentiment has some merit. With your oldest and dearest friends it it always possible to re-connect. And while you may not pick up like no time has passed, you have enough respect and affection for one another to meet where you are at and love what you find.


Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I have a few wonderful friends like that - no matter how much time passes between one contact and another, the connection still remains incredibly strong. It's a sweet and reassuring thing amidst the constant changes of mortality.

heidikins said...

I love friends like that--the ones who just are, no matter what.


Slyck and Slim said...

This was great to read because I have had fears about contacting any of my high school friends for 15 years! Maybe I will finally make it to my 20th reunion and find what you have. :)

Stacie said...

Oh how ironic life can be. I came on to your blog today, not sure why because I haven't before now, but did and came across this post. Being that I am one of the HS friends from the Nov. reunion you spoke of, I can speak from literally being there. All I can say is it's ironic that you spoke of feeling like you didn't measure up in the past and felt intimidated in ways because that's just how I'd describe how I felt around you pretty much since elementary school. Even though we roomed in college for a year, I still felt that way. It wasn't until a few years back when we had a small get-together at our other friends' house that I came to feel the same way you describe feeling after Nov.'s reunion. It was only then, years later, that I felt on equal ground. Maybe it was the common thread of wifehood & motherhood that did it, who knows? But I just wanted you to know that all this time you felt the way you did, at least I, and probably others of us too, felt just the same way. I don't know if that's funny or just unfortunate. Either way, I'm glad we've all grown up since then. :)

kanaboke said...

What a great post! Very honest and from the heart...which is actually a lot like all of your posts but this one in particular struck a chord...maybe because I never imagined you had a time where you felt intimidated by anybody or anything. I also thought about how it's sad sometimes how it's tragedy that brings everyone together, BUT it's the coming together that counts. Anyhoo, just wanted to say I loved this post.