I don't remember her name. I'll call her Sara. Our friend said Sara was ahead of me in the stream of 70's divorcees, swimming with grace and serenity. Walking into her home, I could feel the peacefulness immediately. After our meal, she got straight to the point. This I remember vividly. "Mike says you are struggling with living alone and hopes I can offer some good advice. Well, I'm no expert, but these three things work for me, a career I love, friends of the same sex, and hobbies or interests that fill the empty hours." Simple. Straight to the point.
Well, I was teaching and loved it. I had a group of female friends from among neighbors and colleagues, who supported, and worried about me. But hobbies, interests? All my interests had been directed by my ex. So I thanked her, not adequately I'm sure, and set out to develop my own hobbies. And never saw her again. I eventually settled on needlepoint, needle pointing a pillow for everyone I knew. Eventually, settled into a modicum of comfort in my singleness, but more importantly, gained the confidence that I could and would do so eventually with my own style of grace and serenity.
So what triggered this memory? No single comment or event, but rather a series of events that took place this week. A week of daily contact with friends, old and new. A week of sharing memories, tears, laughter, good food, serious conversation, fears and hopes and even a few interesting possibilities for the future. A week that has culminated with suddenly remembering Sara and thinking of how, 40 years later, I would respond to her advice.
Some of the contacts this week were extemporaneous - e-mails, Facebook posts, a telephone call - from friends acquired along my career path, some friendships over 25 years old. Others - the newer St. George friendships - had been planned for some time. My monthly luncheon date with a friend in her 80's, who shared her dream of seeing Alaska some day, and opened the possibility that we might do that together. The next day, lunch at a local spa with a friend in her 50's, Grasshopper to my Sensei. Discussing my plans for the future, she sparked an idea for a project I could become passionate about. Asked how she might be of personal support in the days ahead, we committed to a monthly luncheon, at the spa, of course.
Then, there were the gatherings. A monthly meeting of a group that has been meeting for two years now, pulled together in the hopes that these women would be a bastion of support in the inevitable life crises that, indeed, have begun to emerge. Aging from 65 to 82, with a fount of knowledge and expertise and a bottomless well of compassion, they have become the haven we hoped for two years ago. For me, for sure. Then, today, lunch with friends to discuss Hillbilly Elegy, four "senior citizens" who share a love of reading and learning,
So, how would I respond to Sara's advice today? At 76, retired, with perhaps too many hobbies, I would say friendship has become the most important, enduring element for me in living a satisfying life, whether alone or with a mate. I would add, that especially as I have aged, I value a web of friends of different generations and different interests. That though it is tempting, especially in today's divisive, hostile environment, to surround myself only with people who think and believe as I do, the diversity of age, interests, and viewpoints keeps me engaged and invigorated. That I need friends to cry with, and friends to laugh with, too. That I need friends who share a piece of my history, friends who nurture me in the present, and friends who help me face the future.
I take comfort in knowing I have created just such an elaborate web of friendships over the years, largely by remarkable good fortune, surely not by conscious design. I don't know how Sara has fared. If she would amend her advice as I have. I hope life has been good to her. I hope she is surrounded by a web of loving, nurturing, diverse friendships.