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As I Get Older, I Treasure Friendships from Youth

Make new friends, but keep the old…

Old friends — Philippe Leone Unsplash

A curious feature about getting older is my growing-up years seem closer. I reconnected with friends at my 40th and 50th high school reunions, and have maintained connections with some. There is a curious delight in friendships that go back to high school or childhood. For some reason, those memories are easily accessible and more present for me than the more recent years of parenting and striving.

Perhaps it is the shared memories. Only Marcy remembers getting lost in a park with me when we were five. I went to her mother’s funeral and remembered being at her house when some of the funny stories, retold, happened originally. I reminisce with her about her mother’s famous chocolate pie.

Or Becky, my friend who celebrated my 70th birthday with me, and knew when it was because she had been invited to my other birthday parties in junior high. We can talk about teachers together, and influencers in high school that made a difference throughout our lives. Her father and my father sometimes worked together; we ended up with careers that were similar to each other. We can talk about our coming-of-age years, our families, and our careers.

The Jenga tower of shared memories

I have lost some dear ones who shared particular memories with me. I realize they each compose some small part of ourselves, like the Jenga game. One by one, I am losing some blocks in my tower; I hope I will not see it topple. They are not here to remind me of this event, or that trip: the memory trips.

I have a later friend whose father was career military when she was growing up, so they moved frequently and there isn’t one place where she is “from.” Others have this childhood experience, too, which provides other strengths (adaptability) but other losses.

My sister, the youngest sibling, moved along with my parents to another city before starting high school. Her experiences are not shared by any siblings in the family, now that my parents are gone. The large age gap meant her childhood was quite different than mine.

The Rural Youth Group at age seventy

My siblings and I laughed at my father, when in retirement, he bought a home, together with my stepmother, outside the small town where he grew up. In his 70s, he attended monthly meetings of his Rural Youth Group. The old members hadn’t changed the name of the group of friends that developed around that boyhood activity. I remember at his funeral service, an elderly man I had never met before shook my hand and said, “He was my best friend,” and disappeared. Best friend when he was six? Sixteen?

I’ve left email contacts for my friends in different stages of my life in a red loose-leaf book that is information in the event of my incapacity or death. I realize that the generation behind me will know little about the lives I lived outside of our shared experience.

I recently read a story (on this platform? a news feed?) I couldn’t find that proposed orienting our lives around our friendships instead of a relationship — the life partner, marriage model. It is not that we shouldn’t include a life partner in our list of friendships. At this stage, I think friendship should be the primary reason for establishing a life partnership.

For way too long a time, in my adolescence and early adult years, I had swallowed the fairy-tale happily-ever-after story. I also read a book about asking God to help you find your life partner — that is, the two of you were preordained for each other, and like marbles in a maze, somehow miraculously connected.

Maybe the romance and sex hormones of youth are overwhelming. I certainly clung to the romantic pictures and lived-out scenes, but not the novel. Even now, I take satisfaction in the carriage ride through Central Park, the sweeping staircase kiss, and the scenes from movies I replayed in real life.

We don’t know what belief systems are being put in a kid’s head because of random influences — what we hear or read or what sticks from family, friends, school, church, the movies, whatever the influences.

Orienting around friendship

Many of us are single by late middle age. Although I count myself as always single, I have been in relationships. The last one ended in his death. Others have ended by mutual agreement. Some of you may have been widowed, divorced, always single, drifted in and out of relationships, or may still be in a relationship, legally, that has changed very substantially over the years. Or you may be happily in love with your lifelong partner.

My friends are still here.

My stepmother entered a senior apartment-assisted living-nursing home continuum in a residence in her small town. She was in the nursing home with childhood friends. I can’t help but think that made life easier in her last years — the familiarity. Likewise, a friend of mine named some people I knew (parents of friends) who shared residence in a senior home. The familiarity seems comforting.

Some readers have set up friendship living situations.

I have a dependable friend for medical rides — the “under twilight sedation must have a ride home” events. I have provided rides for her.

It’s maybe why television series like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” were such hits — the central relationships were friendships, as were the series “Golden Girls” and “Grace and Frankie.”

Friendship — it’s worth the intentionality.

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  1. SingingFrogPress
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    Ah yes, I love this Sharon. I’m finding (since three such deaths have occurred here in Cobleskill over the last 3 months) that even very casual connections (we belonged to the same activist group decades ago, his wife was my dental tooth cleaner, he taught my kids music and led the orchestra and we saw him more than once a week for decades on our daily walks….etc) are causing me less than casual grief at their passing. It’s as if, as we get older, the fabric of our lives is shredding and every thread worn away or pulled represents a larger loss. I do treasure our friendship even while we live on either side of this vast continent.

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