I'm not really a Facebook, reconnect-with-all-your-childhood-friends-and-tell-them-everything-about-your-life, kind of gal. I'm more of a live-in-the-present-and-forget-the-past kind of gal. My family moved around the country a good deal when I was a child and my coping mechanism was to simply move on. I'm a lousy correspondent, as the few (count them, two) friends I've managed to hold on to from high school will tell you. I'm not sure what forces led to my reaching back and grabbing a piece of my past, and I take no credit for it. The location of the reunion at my home was simply a matter of convenience for all more than it was vehemence on my part. Not that I wasn't happy to be reconnecting with these friends from a finished life chapter -- I loved these people and carried a nagging sense of regret when I thought of them and our thinning ties -- but I just didn't understand how deeply I needed this reconnection, how deeply I needed them.
It hit me suddenly, as these things do. I was sharing a laugh in the kitchen with one of my girlfriends who said (just as my 14 year-old daughter approached), "Do you remember that time you were dancing on the table at Tokyo Delves?!!" Let me just interject right here that I'm not exactly the dancing-on-the-table kind of gal either. My jaw dropped because, no -- frankly, I didn't remember dancing on the tables at Tokyo Delves ... at least not clearly. Predictably, my daughter's eyes shot open and she exclaimed with delight, "Mom! YOU were dancing on a table??!" I said, no I was sure I was NOT dancing on a table, at which point another girlfriend walked up and said, "Oh yes you were! It was the night you passed the Bar Exam!" ... And it all came rushing back. I laughed and honestly, almost cried, absolutely thrilled to have this story back, this moment of shared joy with people who loved me once, this legacy of exuberance to pass on to my daughter. I knew in that moment that despite the time and distance that had grown up between my old friends and me, despite the difficult stage of life I passed through with them at my side, that I would not let them drift away again. Our stories, our time together, had been too precious to surrender to the busyness of life ... and just because the chapter was over didn't mean the characters had to vanish.
We traveled to Ashland, Oregon this summer, our family of four, to take in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was a wonderful week of fabulous theatre in a beautiful town. We saw a terrific production of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" that has stayed with me in the way that only marvelous theatre does. If you haven't seen this musical, it's quite dark in a hopeful sort of way. Fairytale characters die and lose children and all sorts of horrors are confronted as Jack and Little Red and The Baker and his Wife dare to journey into the woods.
Though it's dark,
There are always wolves,
There are always spells,
There are always beans,
Or a giant dwells there.
So into the woods you go again,
You have to every now and then.
Into the woods, no telling when,
Be ready for the journey. ...
Into the woods--you have to grope,
But that's the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there's hope
Of getting through the journey.
Into the woods, each time you go,
There's more to learn of what you know....
As I put my kids to bed that night, my 11 year-old son asked, "Mommy, there are really happy endings, though, aren't there?" My daughter, with all the worldly wisdom of a teenager, snapped, "No, there aren't." Quickly shoving my "Mommy" hat back in place, I tried to hang onto the lesson of the night for them for another few minutes: "Of course there are happy endings, but we have to earn them, don't we? There will first be challenges and trouble, and it's how we deal with our journey into the woods that determines who we are when we get out, don't you think?" And maybe, now that I think about it, it's also a bit of how we remember and honor our trip into the darkness once we emerge.
So now I have reconnected, at last, with friends I made on one of my own journeys into the woods. We were friends during a time when many of us didn't know yet who we were going to be, when relationships and marriages were ending and new ones just forming, when we were confronting the onslaught of time and trying to run from it as fast as we could... I have survived other journeys into the woods since that time, but what I learned that lovely summer evening was not to leave everything and everyone behind as I leave the forest. These friends who were friends of a sometimes dark time, look much better in the daylight, and to hold onto them is to hold onto the stories of my growing that connect me to my past and enrich my present. l see now that the family you choose while in the woods is the family that means the most to you once you're back on steady ground. They are the keepers of your stories.