Connecting with peers enlivens any stage of life. However, what if your peers disappear from your life? How does one fill this gap?
At a recent high school class reunion, it was interesting and inspiring to review memories and return for a few hours to those formative years at an all-girls school.
After morning Mass in the chapel, a luncheon and picture taking when we had some time to talk in small groups, the 15 returnees from my graduating class were directed to a gathering room where we could visit as long as we wished. When the preliminary “organ recital,” as one termed it, was over, we decided to pull up chairs around a large table to update and share important events of the years since the last significant (50th) reunion. Condensing one’s life into a five-minute summary can also be eye-opening.
Who knew that some of the quiet classmates would go on to spend years teaching basic reading to inmates in prisons, become grade school principals, or even direct religious education for a diocese?
Many of them were former teachers who had been inspired to join the convent through the example of the Notre Dame nuns and who would go on to teach in various upper Midwest schools for 20, 30 or more years.
Social issues were the nearest political subject. One woman, who spent years in the dregs of Chicago and at several prisons in Minnesota, said education transforms people to learn to make choices, feel empowered and not return to prison.
Heads nodded as several expressed opinions that current politicians don’t believe that inmates have a right to education, thus gutting many recent programs. Another worked many years among the poor in Appalachia. Some left in the “convent exodus” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but continued to pursue careers in health, special education, prison work and nursing, as well as adding homemaking and raising families.
In retirement, they remain active with families, friends and neighbors. Two “pet sit” for neighbors in their apartment buildings, another hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at age 72. We learned that two had a mutual fondness for casinos and they made plans for a trip together.
The tone of the conversations was uplifting, with an obvious respect for learned Catholic principles in family and community life.
One classmate, after hearing the work and accomplishments of her peers, received a round of applause when she said, “(author) Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘I dreamt my classmates were running the country. It was a nightmare.’ It would not be a problem if my classmates were running the country.”
If you receive an invitation to participate in a reunion in the next few months, consider doing so. Sharing memories could not only spark your own life, but give help and new direction to others. Remembering is not a solitary act.
By reconnecting or forming new friendships with some who may have lost husbands or had family members move away, you’ll have a win-win situation. Whether it’s snail mail or modern e-mail, Facebook and cell phones, it is now much easier to stay in touch if we only take time.
My mother, who lived to be 99 plus, in her later years often said that one of the most difficult aspects of living to such a noteworthy age was the absence of contemporary friends and relatives. Her classmates had died and she was the last of her family of seven children. Loving children and grandchildren could not fill that particular void in her life.
As I looked through photo albums this past year with my 90-some-year-old sister, it became obvious that there are only one or two of her early school friends remaining. Fortunately, as her younger sister, I could remember incidents and recall stories involving many of her mid-life fiends to help her share and laugh about memories.
Since she died March 19, leaving me the last in the family; it is my turn to connect with peers. Attending this reunion was a start.
It isn’t easy for some people to cultivate friendships at an older age, but that is a necessary part of life, moving on and “expanding horizons.”
For some, it may be playing cards, bowling, golf, tennis, shopping or spending a few hours at a casino. Church groups, book clubs or community classes can also provide new “meet and greet” situations. Woodworking or craft groups present opportunities to learn or enjoy a hobby. Even “senior” activities offer a wide age range of participants.
It’s surprising how many people will stop to talk if you walk down the block and say hello. Have you ever moved away from a place after several years and had a neighbor or two come up to say hello as you’re packing your furniture into a van? Following a friendly conversation, you might wonder, “Why didn’t we start a conversation and get to know each other sooner?”
The same could be said for getting out and creating memorable friendships. Remembering is not a solitary act. It is the sharing with others that helps us.
(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)