I have to admit that, for the most part, I have only cared about New Years Eve and New Years Day because they gave me time away from school and work. Having another year begin meant little more to me than being conscious of changing my habit of writing the date from the previous year. Somehow I never really thought about getting older or reaching a point in life when I would be fondly looking back on my life rather than blazing a forward path. I took so many years for granted, as though I would always be a fireball of energy with all of my very close friends walking beside me.
I’ve enjoyed a rich life of success with my work and other endeavors along with the joy of being accompanied on my journey with exceptionally good friends. In the most recent years I’ve had to reassess the metrics by which I have always judged how I am doing. Many of those that I have loved have departed from this world and I find the reach of my influence growing ever smaller. A recent lunch with a dear friend brought the changing dynamics of my reality to a startling acceptance that the new year is now best described as a marking of time rather than an opportunity to achieve ever more challenging goals.
Since the nineteen eighties I regularly met a group of remarkable women with whom I had once worked. We each held various jobs at my church before I became a full time teacher. Our yearly encounters began when we were still young and filled with the kind of hopes and dreams that most talented women have. We scheduled our gathering for the Christmas Holidays, with a pledge to find the time to reunite no matter how busy our calendars might be.
In the beginning we took turns hosting the event which always included a gift exchange. We’d update one another on the happenings since the last time we were together and then laugh and share the kind of stories that have bonded women tightly together since the beginning of time. The hours would go by far too quickly and at the end of each reunion we would pledge to see each other more often, knowing full well that it would probably be another year before we managed to coordinate our busy schedules into a single day and time that worked for everyone.
I have enjoyed each of our gatherings since we first began this tradition. We watched our children grow and then leave to begin their own adult lives. We became grandmothers and enjoyed the badges of respect that we each had achieved in our work and our families. Somehow we always picked up our friendship as though we had been together only days before. It was so very wonderful.
When the first member of our unofficial sorority died it was shocking. We still felt young and vibrant and it seemed so wrong that our friend was gone so soon. We continued onward as a group of four until one day there were only three of us remaining. Nonetheless, even as we saw the wrinkles increasing on our skin and the grey poking from our hair, we kept our optimism and joy alive. We’d chat and giggle like school girls, all the while feeling so happy that the roots of our friendship have remained strong.
Last year we had to miss the annual gathering due to Covid. This year there were only two of us. Our third member had a stroke and now resides in a nursing home that we cannot visit due to the virus. The conversation that my friend and I had without the others was filled with more sentimental tears than laughter, more remembering of our glorious past than tales of future plans. We spoke of our families with the same pride, but now we are on the cusp of becoming great grandmothers, a title that seems to make us ancient. We talked of our aches and pains and enumerated lists of people that we have lost in the past year. It was joyful to be together again, but also a bit melancholy without our other friends.
As usual we mentioned the possibility of getting together more often. After all, our schedules are far less crowded than they once were. Without speaking of it, we seemed to agree that time is fleeting and we simply do not know who will be the last person standing. We don’t want to regret not taking the time to reach out more often. Somehow right now nothing in our lives feels more important than just being good and loving friends.
I do have some resolutions for the new year but they are very different from those of the past. I have come of age in a time of illness and unrest. Somehow this past year has made it ever clearer to me that it is in each of our friendships and relationships that we do our most important work on this earth. As the years go by I see more plainly than ever how fortunate I have been and that none of my greatest moments involved salaries or promotions or honors. The best of my life has always been in the quiet moments I have shared with people. I wonder if my profound realization is a sign of growing older or a sudden flash of brilliance. I suppose is does not matter, as long as I take advantage of every single moment that I have to embrace the people who have made my time so much better than it might otherwise have been. I now know that time is fleeting and I must grab what is important while I am able.