Have you ever had one of those crazy weekends that is overscheduled and exhausting? I did. Yet I had more energy this past Monday than I often do after one of those replenish-on-the-couch weekends. Why? Just as in the animated movie Monsters, Inc., where the power of laughter generated tremendous energy, I think that the power of connection generates even more, especially when it is connected with special people from your past. I had three of those connections in just this one weekend!
Event #1: Reunion of my high school field hockey team and coach. After a former teammate ran into our coach, we scheduled an impromptu get-together at our town hangout, the Millburn Deli in Millburn, New Jersey. The team hadn’t been together in more than 40 years, and like so many people have said so often, when dear old friends get together, it’s like no time has passed. There is a powerful comfort in the company of those who knew you when you were young. It’s amazing to see what this bunch of teenage girls carrying sticks and wearing kilts have done with their lives, and it was wonderful to re-meet the generous, funny person behind all of the stern coaching. Coach P was one scary woman back then. “LuLu,” however, is a funny, interesting and interested person who, after 34 years of coaching, remembered every one of us.
Event #2: A memorial event for my dear media coach, Larry Conroy. Larry taught me how to see the words and use my body to tell a story, even when I was broadcasting on radio and no one would see me. His memorial was full of family and friends sharing stories about his fascinating life, which started with music hall, a type of vaudeville in the UK in the 1930s…assorted roles during World War II, including an assignment that had a direct impact on the Nuremberg trials…and a long career in television and film acting before he became a teacher and mentor. He was a remarkable man, and as I experienced at my own father’s funeral, there is so much that we don’t know about even those we love the most until we hear the stories from others.
Event #3: A gathering of my husband’s high school buddy group for the first time in nearly 35 years. On Thursday evening, my husband stopped by my home-office door and said, “I invited an old friend, whom I haven’t seen for many years, and her husband for dinner. They are passing through town and asked if they could stop by.” And I was thrilled that he invited them even though I hardly knew them. That call became the catalyst for a bit of a reunion, as he invited another friend who lives in the area and another who lives in Denver to fly out for the weekend…and they both said yes!! (We tried getting a fifth friend to fly in from Phoenix, but he couldn’t get a dog sitter at the last minute.) This crew hadn’t been together in 34 years—the last time was when one of them got married.
We celebrated Cinco de Mayo with an instant reconnection. I’d heard tales of this crowd’s hijinks, but wow, listening to their escapades during high school and during school trip to Mexico makes me wonder how any of them got out in one piece.
Here’s the really interesting thing that struck me—after the two “reunions,” in particular. While there is the comfort zone of connection with those from our past, I was confronted with the fact that for both Ron’s crew and my own, we didn’t actually know one another other very well when we were young. We played. We laughed. We sang. We partied. But now, at 60 plus or minus, it’s a whole different level of communication and emotional intimacy. I knew when and where to pass the ball to my field hockey teammates, but I was so busy with my boyfriend in high school that I didn’t spend a lot of time with them outside practice and the games. None of us talked about our deep fears and hurts or about the family challenges that existed behind closed doors…even when it was your best friends’ family challenges. We all dutifully went to college, but none of us had dreams—certainly none that we shared with each other.
I’m not sure if it’s the era or my age that’s different. I definitely am a far more open communicator than I was when I was young. It could be the era. No one spoke on a personal level back then. Parents didn’t share with kids, and kids didn’t share with parents. Family business was kept private, and boundaries were respected. Now, in the world of social media, it’s no holds barred. If it’s not offered up on display, it’s asked and answered…often in very public forums.
Alternatively, it could be our age now that we’re well beyond being afraid of what “they might think” if we say the wrong thing. At the dinner table this weekend, there were no holds barred—“You weren’t that smart in high school”…“How hard it must have been helping your child work through his stuff”…“It’s good you divorced your spouse”…“Why don’t you ever visit your parents?”
The gang was real and confrontational and went well beyond simply reminiscing about the time in the parking lot with the beer. I had never met some of them before, so I did my usual Sarah-Hiner-Third-Degree of wanting to know each person’s story of who he/she is and what he is trying to do in the world. There was some apologizing for some of the challenging remarks after the fact, but with the wisdom of age comes the understanding that we all are humans trying to make the best of our lives and that each of us has hidden hurdles to get over on the way to that best life.
Small talk is fine, but as the time remaining in life gets shorter, communication and connection get more meaningful. Even the small talk is more reflective…filled with regrets of the past and hopes for the future.
I find it incredibly fun and freeing to be able to speak up from a place of wisdom, knowing that I can say what I need to say or else it may never get said.