Old Friends, Female and Fifty-Something

Halloween festivities at Marymount 1973

Halloween festivities at Marymount 1973

It’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend.  I was actually going to include “Friday” in the title of this post, but figured that would be alliteration overkill.

In any case, not only do I have the New York City Coalition Against Hunger Benefit Fashion Show to look forward to this evening, but on Saturday and Sunday several of my old college friends are gathering in New York City for dinner, a show, Mass at St. Patrick’s and a Sunday brunch.

My roommate Paula and friend Adriana, enjoying a spring day on the green

My roommate Paula and friend Adriana, enjoying a spring day on the green

I have always deeply valued the friendships I made at Marymount College.  Even so, decades passed with little contact among us.  I remember trying to say good-bye to my dear, best friend Adriana, who was going to be returning to her home in Colombia, South America, and she kept stopping me.  “I don’t say good-bye.  Don’t say good-bye,” she insisted, diverting my desire for a last hug, steeped in awareness that we would travel miles and miles, literally and figuratively, before we would ever meet again.  I never did get to say good-bye, and I’ve never seen her again.

But most of the time, it isn’t anything dramatic that keeps friends apart over the years.   Life gets in the way.  We might see each other at weddings, but then it’s off to build new lives with significant others, and kids, and careers with a whole batch of new friends, and years and years pass.

In my case, not only did my friends fade into the distance, but my college, as of a couple of years ago, is no more.  Marymount College celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2007, and it was a bittersweet anniversary and final reunion, because the college was closing.   With declining enrollment, perhaps due to lack of interest in same-gender schools, Fordham University had taken it under its umbrella and tried to keep it alive, but finally, we got a letter stating that they had sold the beautiful campus overlooking the Hudson River and Tappan Zee Bridge, and that Marymount would cease to exist except for representation by an alumni association and a collective body of memories.   Lots of Marymount alumni are left alma-materless, including the notables Rosalind Russell, Geraldine Ferraro, Susan Lucci.

My son, who works in Public Affairs for Rutgers University, was in on the huge transition that Rutgers had last year,  centralizing all of the various colleges that made up Rutgers.  One of the most controversial issues was what to do with Douglass College, Rutgers’ women’s college.   The argument was that women’s colleges are no longer relevant in today’s society.   I’m not sure that’s true.  There have been studies showing that women flourish in women’s colleges–when in a single-sex environment they are more active collaborators, have tighter student-faculty bonds, experience more support and intellectual challenge.   When Marymount started facing pressures to go co-ed, like many colleges in the height of the women’s movement, their slogan was “Marymount separates the women from the boys!”   When I went to college at Marymount, there was only intellectual growth unencumbered by intimidation; inquiry unencumbered by male ego, creativity unencumbered by sublimation.

But I digress.  Now that life has gone on and even my college has passed on, time seems to favor reconnections with old friends.  When we meet this week, we don’t need hotels–one friend is staying at her daughter’s up by Columbia University, one at her daughter’s in Gramercy Park, I will be staying at my son’s in Union City.   Our kids have their own activities now, leaving us to pick up where we left off with our own friendships.

For a while, I bemoaned not having the women friends of my youth, but my friendships weren’t gone–they were only in hibernation as we all moved with the speed of light through weeks and months and years of being wives, and mothers, and Domestic Chieftans.  One of the best things about getting a bit older is being able to reclaim some of that time for ourselves, and just be the people we were in our college years, but a bit wiser.

Returning to these ties may be good for our health, according to the UCLS study on friendship among women.

Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. There’s no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer…Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.

Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That’s a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998). Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push them right to the back burner.

So time to put the friends back on the front burner.  I’m going to dust off the Christmas card list and take up a few friends on their offers–“Let’s get together in 2009!”    But not just because it will make me healthier, or live longer.   Because they give me strength.  They make me laugh.  They’re fun to be with.  And, after all these years, I still adore them.

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Emergency Landing: 5 minutes to think about life’s essentials

sky_with_puffy_cloudsI have not posted lately–despite my intention to post at least twice a week.  That is because my work life is ramping up after a brief early-year drought and I’ve been busy traveling.  

Which brings me to my topic:  Upon take-off out of Newark Liberty Airport last Sunday, the left engine of the 757 caught on fire and we were forced to make an emergency landing.    Overall, it was not a particularly dramatic event–no oxygen masks popping down doing a dance in front of my face.  No flustered flight attendants telling us to brace for impact.  Except for the loud bang, the ensuing rocking back and forth, and the slight quiver in the voices of the pilot and the attendants, it felt quite routine, actually. In probably about 5 minutes, we were back on the ground safely.  Afterwards, the pilot briefed us by saying the event had been “very serious, but we were able to correct it efficiently.”    Bravo!

This was actually my second emergency landing.  My last one was about eight years ago, and we had to return to the Phoenix airport because of a broken slat–not as serious as an enflamed engine.   We had had time in that case to dump fuel in the desert.  In this case, we didn’t have that luxury–we “landed heavy,” meaning with a full tank–making me sense that this landing was more urgent.

Ironically, though, I was much more fearful during the first one.   In the one this week, I had an almost dispassionate line of thinking which went, “This could be really serious.  I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s possible that this aircraft is doomed.  If that’s true, I am living the last few minutes of my life right now.  Should I try to use my cell phone to call home?  Should I try to text a message?  To whom?”  My husband came to mind first, swiftly followed by my four children.  But I oddly wasn’t really frightened–it was more of a heightened alertness of living very much moment to moment.    But I felt a real need to communicate with my loved ones.  Since we were instructed not to use our cell phones, I thought I would write a message and leave it in my purse–perhaps it would survive me.  I knew I didn’t have time for much–no time for wise words of advice.  And I didn’t have time to write several personal notes, as much as I would have loved to.   “Take care of your siblings.”  Or, “Remarry with my blessings.” So the only thing I did was scrawl on the back page of my DayTimer:  “Sunday night.  I love you guys!”  Kind of a final group hug.

When I got back down to terra firma after a safe landing, I swiftly called all members of my family, but had to leave messages to all but one of them.  My second son voice-mailed me back saying, “Wow, what an experience, Mom!  Glad you’re back safely.  By the way, I don’t say it often enough, but I love you.”

He felt what I had felt–that it would be a shame to miss a last chance to say I love you.    They’re just three words, but after weighing all my options in handling the possibly last few minutes of my life, they were all that mattered.

 

In preparing for this post, I wanted to see if others had similar thoughts in this situation, so I googled “What goes through your mind during an emergency landing,” and from what I could see, I was not alone in only wanting to connect with loved ones.  A few people said they prayed.  I’m surprised I didn’t think of that.  Maybe if we had been in flight longer, I would have–I actually carry a rosary in my bag, and it probably would have come in handy, once I had taken care of writing the love note to my family.

My thought process was more similar to that of Terri from Calgary–who wrote about her emergency landing last September in her blog, Windlost.  

I thought about my Mom a lot, and was so happy I’d just spent a week with her (under rather stressful circumstances – an entire week spent at hospital attending to my Dad who is going into a wheelchair, showing signs or dementia, losing control of his body, and may need to go into a nursing home…). Happy I had seen my Dad and Grandma and aunts that I love…

You think about people most of all. And then you think about how hard you are on yourself everyday, for so many reasons, and suddenly realize how precious you are. You just suddenly have all this LOVE for yourself, all this thanks for your life. I didn’t feel any regret. I just remember thinking that worrying about my weight is stupid. All the time I spend beating myself up for being a few pounds more than I should be is utter nonsense. That worrying about a job, a house, all that material stuff is really irrelevant.”

Amen, Terri.  

On my return trip from O’Hare yesterday, I was in the airline lounge, and the man in the computer kiosk next to me was talking on the phone.  The last thing he said before hanging up was “I love you.”   As I walked to the gate, I passed a girl on a cell phone, who was saying as I passed, “I love you.”   It was so nice to hear–and it reminded me that I need to be more generous that way and say “I love you” more often.  Life  doesn’t always give you a 5 minute warning to cram it in.

Angels Dragging Wheelies: Letting Go of Emotional Attachments

God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.— Meister Eckhart

Let’s just say that no one can be happy unless they can detach. Our attachments make us miserable.  That’s the hypothesis.  That’s a cornerstone of Buddhism.  That’s the point behind Jesus’s telling the young rich man that if he wanted to follow him, he would have to sell everything first.

Many people take that famous Gospel passage to mean that everyone must become an ascetic and give up all they own to follow Jesus.   I’m not a theologian, but I don’t think that’s what it means at all.  The point of that story was that the man turned away UNHAPPY.  He was attached to his stuff.  He wanted to follow Jesus, but he couldn’t see himself releasing the emotional hold he had on his belongings.  Jesus was applying an attach-o-meter to the young man’s spiritual readiness to follow him.

My attach-o-meter rings the bell with some things—old letters from friends and relatives, my John Derian plates, several of my books, my dog’s ashes, the home in which I’ve raised my kids.

Unfortunately they don’t even make an attach-o-meter with enough wattage to register my attachments to people in my life—especially my husband and my children.  Does that make me a good mother, a good wife? 

 

This image by the indie rock group The Detachment Kit is a wonderful illustration of the bond we often have with others

This image by the indie rock group The Detachment Kit is a wonderful illustration of the bond we often have with others

Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello might say, perhaps not.  What makes prideful ownership of a car any different than prideful ownership of a person?  Isn’t that even worse?   It is so counterintuitive to us, as human beings to realize that we don’t have any personal claim on any individual, even if we’ve been faithfully married for decades; even if we gave birth to those individuals.  But we constantly act as if we do.  Most of us act like emotional Siamese twins when it comes to people we love.

 

The only way to let go of unhealthy attachments of our relationships is through understanding, according to de Mello in the chapter on Detachment in his wonderful little book Awareness:  The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. 


We’ve been so blinded by everything that we have not discovered the basic truth that attachments hurt rather than help relationships.  I remember how frightened I was to say to an intimate friend of mine, ‘I really don’t need you.  I can be perfectly happy without you.  And by telling you this, I find I can enjoy your company thoroughly—no more anxieties, no more jealousies, no more possessiveness, no more clinging.  It’s a delight to be with you when I am enjoying you on a nonclinging basis.  You’re free, so am I.’  But to many of you I’m sure this is like talking a foreign language.–de Mello, Awareness, p.139

 

When we attach ourselves to things, people, and concepts maybe it’s out of fear–fear that without these self-imposed bonds we will be less loveable, less secure, less happy.   Maybe we’re like the old Egyptian kings who were so identified with their possessions that they were buried with them.  Is that who we really want to be?  Do we want to be identified by our possessions?  Or would we rather be free?   I picture a scenario where two friends are killed in a car crash.  The two new angels go winging themselves up to heaven—but one looks as if he/she were headed toward some Newark Airport of the sky–weighed down with backpack, wheelie, and laptop bag—and yelling to their unencumbered fellow angel, “Hey, wait up!” 

We also tend to attach ourselves to concepts through ideological labels.  We are Republican, American, Presybterian.  We wear T-shirts that say “Kiss Me–I’m Irish.”   We don’t just work to help the environment, we are “environementalists.”  It’s not that we just stopped eating meat, we are “vegetarians.”  It makes us feel good to identify with people and causes we admire, maybe because of a hard-wired need for people to belong.  Anthropologically, it was probably an important survival skill back in prehistoric times.  But it is self-limiting now. Putting ourselves in a neat box to make it easy for people to categorize us literally boxes us in.

 

So to create the kind of understanding that de Mello says will lead to true detachment, perhaps we simply examine ourselves.   See what face we would put on if Jesus told us to go and sell our possessions.  Or see how hard it is to hold back if our children or spouse does something that we feel we have to save them from.  Or if, in joining an organization, see if we lose the forest for the trees in the comfort of living out one point of view.  

And think about what the trade-off would be if we relinquish things, or need to control others, or our precious ideas?   Maybe the trade-off is a kind of death to oneself as talked about by Jesus and mystics of every religion.  A losing of ourselves that opens us up to unity and a release from fear. 

Like Tim Robbins’ hole in the wall behind the Raquel Welsh poster in the movie “Shawshank Redemption”—maybe we find the trade-off is a hidden portal that leads to freedom from a prison that we have built around ourselves with the bricks of our attachments; the illusions of our needs.

Letting Go of Relationships

camwill poster credit:  Britt Boyd

camwill poster credit: Britt Boyd

Well, I’m sure not going to cover this topic in one post.   But when we talk of attachments, relationships play a big part, because unfortunately, we often view our relationships as personal possessions.    So, when it comes time to declutter our social lives, especially if it’s the ONE in our lives, it really hurts.  Or, if our “possessions” act up in ways that we object to, we get angry.   Just like when we have an urge to kick the TV when the channel changer gets stuck, we expect our relationships to fulfill all of its functions as if it were our TV or computer–exactly to our expectations.    And that’s where the hurt is bound to come into play, because no one person can fulfill all of our expectations.   No one person is here on this planet to serve us, despite what Renee Zelwegger says to Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts says to Hugh Grant.   We honor each other’s dignity by allowing them to be who they are.

On March 10, Cameron William is playing at Arlene’s Grocery in New York.   My favorite song of his is a song called “Rope Burn”–about the pain of letting go of a relationship.   I love this metaphor–it’s so rich.  It’s about the freefall into a solitary place.  And the song tells us that it is only the desire to stay where you are that hurts you and gives you “rope burn.”

Here are some of the lyrics:

You think you lost your love

But what do you expect when you push and shove pieces back into place

They’re not meant to be rearranged

But I’ll hang on and I will start to learn

That there’s no shame in getting a little rope burn

When you hang on so tight…

Just let it go…

 

This wind has a bitter chill

But you don’t even mind standing out in the cold

Cuz it’s the easiest way for you to keep what you hold

But I’ll hang on and I’ll start to learn

That my hands will hurt until I get rope burn

 

And things have changed

And you’ve got to take it day by day

It has to happen this way

But it’s the start of something great

With a new timeline!

And it’s OK

You will learn to deal with what comes next

It’s the start of something great with a brand new day.

Go see Cameron William at Arlene’s Grocery in New York next Wednesday, March 10.

05 Rope Burn