One of the first realities of the academic labor market that we learned upon entering graduate school was that one must be willing to move to find a job. Although we could enjoy several years (“n” years, anyone?) playing in Boston, we had to realize that an academic job would most likely take us to places far beyond New England. I thought of this recently when travels with my family took me to a city where two friends from high school currently live.
I was excited to be able to meet up with them and to have them be able to see my husband again and to meet my daughter, the first time for both of them. One of these friends was my constant companion during high school years, while the other goes back even farther, to grammar school. While the travels with my family were wonderful, I think I will always remember that recent trip from the experience of being able to spend time with two wonderful people from my past.
One of the women was there with her husband to meet me and my family at the airport. It was so exciting to see her, and, frankly, she did not look any different from the last time I saw her, about twenty years ago. The other woman looks amazing, and I decided that these people don’t age, they just grow more beautiful.
Upon meeting at the airport, it took only a few minutes for us to decide that we needed to participate in one of our favorite teenage pastimes, and go shopping. As we headed to dinner, we stopped at a store and bought an outfit for me. With her advising me about what to buy, I felt that I had returned to my life before I needed to learn how to live on a graduate student stipend.
And then we met my other friend, who dropped by after a day at her successful law practice. She had been voted “most likely to succeed” and had lived up to every ounce of that prediction. Which was much more exciting than my “easiest to rattle.”
Conversation with my friends quickly evolved into discussion about classmates and families. They had attended class reunions that I had missed, and were more connected with classmates, thanks to being on Facebook, so they had more information than I had. And so, I mostly listened to what they had to say, with little new information to share that was not from my own life.
I listened to what they told me, and heard stories of children raised and degrees earned and career success and of love found, sometimes in unexpected places. I heard that our rather small high school class had dispersed across the country, although some had remained in my home town. Life had treated many of my former classmates well, although I suspected there were probably stories of struggle behind the simple facts that they had to share.
Erma Bombeck said that “after sixty, it is patch, patch, patch,” and so, while not yet sixty, such a reunion was sure to include discussions of battles life has sent us. There were chronic illnesses, broken bones and conversations about “what medicine do you take for that?” However, I was not expecting to hear of classmates who had died, which, alas, I did. When the name of one was mentioned, it brought back memories of playing together as young children. Although I had not seen that classmate since the last reunion I attended, hearing of her death left me with a deep sense of loss that her unique life was no longer blessing this planet. My friends told me that many of my classmates had walked with her on her final journey, thanks to social media. I was glad that she had not been alone in her battle, and recalled similar support my own sister had received from friends throughout her struggle.
Saying good-bye to my friends was difficult, but I had to leave them in a wonderfully warm part of the country, as I returned to the Snow Belt, where my job waited for me.
So, readers, have your academic travels taken you far from friends from the past, and how do you stay in touch?
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