My thirty-fifth high school reunion starts tonight, but I won’t attend. I can’t make plans for future events anymore because I don’t know what the future holds. Making a decision last summer on whether everything would line up “just right” proved impossible, so I declined the invitation for the two days of celebration. I find that my comfort zone in planning ahead shrinks down to scheduling an outing a week in advance—and then I make certain that others involved in the plans know I may cancel at the last moment.
I never predicted that life would lead me to this moment. I thought my retirement days would evolve in whatever manner I selected—morning gym runs, afternoon writing sprees, evening park walks. I’d read voraciously. I’d start new craft projects. I’d design and construct my gardens out front. I’d stretch out on a blanket and dream of pomegranates.
In recent months, the unexpected life twists of many of my friends, those graduates from the class of ’76, make me realize life’s difficulties never cease. Mistakenly, I thought all of those early years of struggle would lead to later years of contentment and security. Instead, my generation feels battered and rejected. Three friends have lost their thirty year careers. Each day, they search for another job, compete with this generation’s youth, fight to regain footing unexpectedly kicked out from them. I don’t know how to comfort these people. “Hang in there,” or “I’m thinking of you,” or “Things will work out,” seem pitiful platitudes in the face of their dilemma.
Another group of my peers watch their own children battle against the economy. They welcome their children back into their homes because these young adults often cannot afford expensive rents, high car payments, and repayment of school loans on the stagnant pay they receive. One friend called the other night, thrilled that her daughter landed a job doing something that didn’t require her expensive college degree, but at least it offered full time work with a salary and benefits.
Then my graduating class members face the ailing health of our parents. I am not alone in my role as caregiver. As I’ve reconnected with friends from my past, I find comfort in the support they give me. Some have already walked down this path while others begin their journey along with me. Their encouraging words, quick wit, and genuine understanding prop me up on my toughest days. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed several classmates fight personal health issues. The tremendous courage and grace under pressure I’ve seen makes me thankful that these friends touch my life.
I remember the graduates from my class as intelligent, generous and talented people. Some of us still hold onto the idealism that we can make a difference in the world—maybe not on a huge scale, but by how we handle life’s challenges! I may miss the festivities this weekend, but the real reunion happens every time a friend from the past contacts me.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman