Sometimes, my Facebook feed feels like a parade of dead parents. So many people I know are living through the same stage of life I am, and this is where we are: the age of our untethering.
A good friend from college recently lost her father, suddenly, and although–I guess?–none of us should be surprised, it was still surprising. I haven’t yet crossed over to the island so many of my old friends now inhabit, and I always feel at a loss for words when I see them climbing onto that terrible shore. What can I call across to them that that will be helpful and true? What do I know of where they are, or of what life now means to them? When I imagine the journey ahead of me, my own foundation collapsing and throwing me into that same sea…well, I don’t. Imagine it. Not for long, anyway.
My friend, who is also managing some other challenges typical for those our age, has been much on my mind. One dreary day this week, as I pulled into a grocery store parking lot, Katrina and the Waves’s “Walking on Sunshine” came on the radio:
What a frothy confection of a song! It transported me to 1985, the year Kim and I, a pair of coltish young women all lanky and clumsily beautiful, became friends. I remembered a particular afternoon in our sorority’s sun-filled living room, feeling good with her in a place I often felt bad, laughing at that song, at where we were, at how it felt to be everything we were on a rare warm northwest spring day. Everyone around us was blonde and light, with faces turned toward futures I couldn’t imagine as anything other than bright. Nearly 40 years later, sitting in my car in the parking lot of a dismal grocery store on a gray January day, the song made me smile, the way it always did then and always has since. It made me feel good to think of us as we once were, so many of our dramas then as silly-serious as the music, with our biggest mistakes not yet made and our deepest pains not yet felt.
Weren’t we lucky, once?
I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.
Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.
Although I will, in the face of another’s grief, always fear saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing the wrong way, I have learned that it is generally better to say something than nothing. So I sent the song to my friend with a few bumbling words, even as I worried that they might land wrong. That she might wonder what the hell I was thinking, would not understand what I was trying to offer or say. That I would make her feel even more sad than she already does.
But what she wrote back to me was, “I can’t express how much I LOVE this.”
I don’t know how she feels–how any of my friends on that shore I’m heading for truly feel–but I know that the more I lose, the more I love what I’ve had, and the more I realize what a gift it can be to have something good to feel nostalgic and heartbroken with, even if it is only a soft song that lets us forget, for a few moments, all the hard “yes, ands” we all live with, no matter our age.