By Leah S. Dunaief
This week there was a mini-reunion at my house of college classmates who happened to be in the area. One actually came in from Arizona, but she was making her annual New York visit anyway and included a trip to my house from the city. It was great fun to see the nine women who arrived for lunch and chatter. As classmates we do share a lifetime bond and, as contemporaries, we share a lot of history and culture. We don’t have to stop mid-sentence and explain our obscure references to younger listeners because everyone gets the point.
Each of us is curious to see how the others have aged. We mentally compare wrinkles, double chins, weight gains. We talk about our children, our grandchildren, our husbands and, in a couple of cases, ex-husbands. We tell each other about good plays we have seen, worthwhile books we have read, interesting trips we have taken. But these are superficialities. What we really want from each other is to share wisdom. After all, we have been around the block a few times by now and hopefully have learned a few things in the process.
So we ask the question of the group: At this stage of life, what is a most important insight you have had?
One answers, “To be appreciative.” I can certainly relate to that. To wake up in the morning and know you have the gift of a new day, and if you are lucky, to do with that time as you wish. Some who came still work, others are retired. Most people who come to reunions, I think, are basically happy with their lives. So since the miserable ones don’t come, those who do make it find common currency in appreciation. “I have had a good life so far, I’ve been very lucky,” is a frequent refrain.
“To be in the moment,” posits another. Yes, it’s a cliché, but one with significance. To be fully aware at any given point of where we are and what is happening around us is to enjoy a full existence. Feeling the sand give way underfoot during a walk on the beach, hearing the calls of seagulls over the water as they search for dinner, feeling the soft wind coming up from the southwest as it blows against one’s cheek, smelling the salt in the air as the waves break against the shore — all of those experiences enhance the present moment.
“Let it go,” offers another. Now we are getting into deeper discussion. We carry guilt to some degree, all humans do. We also carry anger, or fear, perhaps. We may struggle with resentment, envy, an affront, disappointment, hurt, traumatic memories and any number of other negative emotions. Have we learned after all this time to let them go? Or at least have we learned how to work through them so they lessen in our hearts and minds?
“I have learned how much it pleases me to make connections,” was another response. “If I am somewhere and meet a stranger who is striving for a goal, and I know something or someone else who could perhaps help that person to realize his or her ambition, I enjoy connecting them.”
That comment made me think of one of my favorite analogies, that of comparing life to a game of billiards. We glance off each other as we move along, perhaps exchanging a few words in just a few moments that have meaning.
I remember one day waiting for the light at Ninth Avenue in Manhattan on my way to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey. How many times I had made that trip, and always the same way. But this one time I noticed that the pick-up truck waiting next to me was turning in the opposite direction despite having New Jersey plates. So I rolled down my window and called out to the driver, asking where to turn. He yelled back his answer, the light changed and we both drove away. But his way shortened my trip by several minutes. In that brief exchange, he changed my life positively. How meaningful even the briefest connection can be.
As you might tell, we had a good time at our mini-reunion.