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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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

Phantom Friends

Friends come and go in our lives. Some stick around, seemingly forever. A childhood friend, or a college buddy, or even a hospital roommate. Parting words, “We’ll definitely stay in touch” are so sincere when first uttered, but many times, despite the best intentions, the bond becomes nothing more than a treasured memory. Some lost friends are more than a memory–a few are like phantom limbs which, even though they were amputated long ago, their presence is still oddly there and felt in a very real way.

I have a few friends that are often present in spirit, but I no longer know where they are. Here’s three of them. If by some odd quirk of synchronicity they read this and identify themselves, I hope they let me know.

Roger
Roger was a high school friend. We never hung out in the same circles, we shared very little actual time together, but that transcendent bond was definitely there. 

When I was a freshman in high school I was in my first school play. It was a very exciting experience, and I quickly learned about the bonds of community formed by the cast and crew of a theatrical production. I was particularly fond of one particular actor–and I guess I spoke of him often at home, because my mother became very anxious to see the young man that her daughter was so enamored with. The night of the play, she ran down the cast of characters in the program so that she could identify this Roger person. As she was to laughingly relate to her friends later, when he came out on stage she nearly fell out of her chair, because Roger was black. I am a Connecticut Yankee. white-bread Anglo-Saxon, and came of age in the 60s. Martin Luther King, Jr. had barely delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner hadn’t hit the box office yet. So, while I truly never heard my mother every utter a racist comment in her life, I can appreciate how unexpected her daughter’s first crush was to her.

Roger had so much promise, he was a highly respected school leader with a totally charismatic personality. I’ve often wondered how he chose to use his skills and this is what I would love to ask him now, if he were here with me.

Harriet
They say the mentors are key to success. Everyone needs someone to take them under their wing, advise them, believe in them.

One of the jobs I took after graduating with a pretty useless degree in Drama Criticism was  secretary to the Director of Communication at an upscale liberal arts college in Westchester, NY. I took that particular job, not because it paid well (because it certainly didn’t), but because the academic environment was a) beautiful and b) intellectually stimulating.

Harriet ran the Communications Office and edited the campus newsletter. I drooled at the thought of having a job like hers. My tasks were clerical and administrative, and I wondered how I would make it to the next level, and ultimately to a job like Harriet’s.

One day she asked me if I would mind interviewing one of the campus employees as part of an employee spotlight series she ran. I jumped at the chance, and a few days later turned in the short profile with a knot in my stomach, wondering whether the editing would be minor, or a complete back-to-the-drawing board revamp.

She gave it back to me and told me to set it up in the newsletter. It had no edits. I said to her, “You don’t have to be nice to me if it’s not good.” She said,

“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t risk my job to be nice to you. It’s really good–you have talent.”

If anyone, especially the young and insecure, has had the good fortune to have someone look them in the eye and say “You have talent,” you know how much mileage that represents in terms of motivation and self-esteem. I think I carried those three words in my pocket for several years, until I had the confidence to know it for myself.

Harriet was a friend and a mentor, and to say that that offhand reply was responsible for a significant part of my future success, I wouldn’t be exaggerating, and I’ve always wanted to be able to thank her for that.

Donna

When I was at the sandlot stage in my life, with regular visits to the playground with my kids and long chats with the other mothers, I met Donna, an au pair from Grenada.  She had left her own two daughters behind with her mother so that she could come to America, earn a green card, and create a better life for her family.   She sacrificed three years of time with her own children, watching the child of a professional family here in the States.  Her employer was a lawyer, and though he was not an immigration lawyer, he promised her that he would help her, and in exchange every month she gave him $100 towards his fee–a considerable part of her small salary.

Two years into her stay, she was asked to leave on a moment’s notice.  Not only that, but when she asked them about the progress of her green card, turns out the employer had done nothing to advance it, so Donna was out the money as well as the precious time with her children.   

I saw her when she was on her way to live with her sister in Brooklyn until she found a place and a job, but I never saw her after that.  All I have left of our friendship is a crocheted table topper that she made me for Christmas one year, and every time I look at it it reminds me of the love and sacrifice Donna’s life was made of.   If I had the chance to see her again, I would love to know if she ever got her kids here, and if they are happy.

 

Those are three of my phantom friends.   You are in all probability not one of the ones I’ve mentioned here, but you must be someone’s phantom friend.  If so, reach out to them.   You never know if they are on the other end, feeling your presence, and wondering how you are.