One of the privileges of age is that you get to have old friends. “I am going to Montreal this weekend,” I say, “to see my friends from high school.” Some people are surprised, some bemused, some maybe a little envious. I have never taken friendships for granted, but in my earlier years, I think that I assumed their perpetual existence. I envisioned keeping all current friends as I proceeded through life, adding more with each decade, ending up in my advanced age with hundreds? thousands? of people with whom I had shared some historical and emotional intimacy.
At 61, I now know better. People come and go more often than they come and stay. That is not necessarily bad news. The really good news is that some DO stay, and I treasure that. These particular friends, which I am loathe to admit we referred to–and still do–as the Big 5, convene each spring, traveling from Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire, to the likes of New York City (many times), DC, Annapolis, Montreal. The planning begins in January. The suggestions for place and time cause the emails to fly. And then there are the restaurant and hotel choices, and finally, what to do while there besides the nonstop conversation: theatre, museum, the hop-on, hop-off city bus tour? Any walking limitations this year (well, we are of that age, depending)? Hotel lobby or rooftop bar for the traditional raising of the champagne glass?
If you have any experience with these kinds of reunions, you can imagine how the weekend goes. If not, it goes like this: we arrive, attend to the traditional champagne glass-raising, negotiate details of our schedule, embark on all selected activities. We catch up on the past year, look at photos of grandchildren, announce any new challenges we are facing. We talk. There are conversations about religion and politics that are comforting in their sameness; we have been having some version of these conversations since we were 13. There are new topics that get a through going-over across a dinner table or on a few bar stools. Because we are four, we sometimes pair interchangeably as we walk. We usually end with a final breakfast, where we decide again that we have solved most of the world’s problems if only someone would listen to us. I come home from these weekends happy and utterly exhausted.
Back to that all-important raising of the champagne glass. We always begin with a toast of remembrance for our friend who attends each reunion in spirit only. We lost her to cancer when she was only 34. She was, for a time, my college roommate until we argued and didn’t speak to each other for almost a year. It is always a somber moment and this year, particularly so for me. On that rooftop bar in Montreal, not only was I grateful for these four friends, I thought about our departed comrade, and all that she had missed, dying early in her 30s. A very sad thought, and yet, I was at the same time grateful. If 61 brings walking problems, or difficult life changes, I thought what she would have given to have arrived at this age, whatever the imperfections and challenges. I thought that among the greatest privileges of age is. . .age. And maybe even just a slice of the wisdom of living in gratitude for it.