So far, my life’s journey has been more curvy than straight. I’ve had my share of detours and dead ends over the years. I’m grateful for the tally of professional and personal milestones I've earned, and excited to be immersed in so many interesting endeavors right now. Yet, despite the optimism I’ve managed to collect, I’m never far from my ubiquitous cache of memories. Every once in a while, I’ll look deep into the bag at one of my previous touch points, hoping to remind myself of how much I’ve accomplished, or to appreciate the people in my life more.
Carrying this metaphorical bundle of recollections feels burdensome at times. It slows me down, forcing me to recalibrate my inner speedometer. Like an older companion who grips my arm to avoid slipping on the ice, thinking about past experiences inspires concurrent sensations of responsibility and irritation.
At an informal reunion with six of my college roommates not long ago, I was reminded of the distinct contrast between my past and present identities. Face to face with those who remembered me as a younger woman, there was no hiding the dents and scratches I wore today. While I’ve been lucky, I’ve not been entirely immune to struggles, disappointments, insecurities or misplaced allegiances.
The four years we spent at the same alma mater included too many hysterical escapades to count, and even inspired a secret lingo coined just for our group. Thrown together haphazardly our freshman year, we have long since developed the most enduring friendships. From our adolescent origins, we have grown into the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and friends we are today.
My natural reluctance to revisit the past, and an extra busy week nearly kept me from attending the gathering. Fortunately, I didn’t allow hesitation to overshadow this opportunity to reconnect with my exuberant group of female friends. For most of us, especially those with children at home, coordinating the get-away required tapping into back-up support systems. It’s never easy to set aside family obligations and postpone external distractions to focus on one’s friendships for 24 hours. But it was definitely worth the effort.
Soon after the initial joyful greetings, once we had filled our wine glasses and tucked ourselves around our host’s generously laden table, I realized that we had come together with a singular understanding. We were all eager to shed our protective outer layers, peel back well-worn defensive postures and wipe off the painted masks we wore in our day-to-day lives. We craved the forgiveness and acceptance instilled in the common bonds and unconditional relationships we had forged nearly thirty years before.
One by one, we shared stories that would have seemed implacable to our younger selves. Caring for aging parents, sending children off to college, divorce, family turmoil, new professional endeavors, the ups and downs of long-term marriages and for those of us starting over, the excitement of finding new love - each of these topics had their moment. There was nothing we couldn’t say that evening. We brought our emotions to the table with us. It was a veritable patchwork quilt of truth and laughter, and the closeness I felt to my friends that night fueled my soul. We stayed up too late, none of us wanting the visit to end.
The next morning, the coffee brewed and our conversations continued, but I sensed in the daylight that we had already become more careful with one other, as if an unspoken switch had been pulled telling us to begin to prepare for our re-entry into the outside world. As I watched my friends depart, I felt a sense of melancholy creep up upon me. I knew it was time for me to leave, as well, but I dreaded having to don my own external veneer. Responsibility dropped down upon me again, like a cloud blocking the sun, a stark contrast to the clear sky and unlimited stars of the night before.
In the days that have followed that magical weekend, I’ve found myself more conscious of trying to be grateful, more patient, and a lot more hopeful. It’s as if by receiving the stories of my friends’ life experiences, they have transferred all the lessons that they have learned back to me, like gifts, in return. I know that by permitting myself to return to my younger self for a little while, I have gained a new appreciation for the older person I have become.