In my youth I traveled to many distant places and I lived all over this country as well as in Europe. I became friends with people who remained in my life through letters and then email and then Facebook even though we never or rarely saw each other again. They married and had children, raised children, worked an entire career, and all this far away from me. Our lives continued to touch, but did not intersect in such a way that we remained a part of one another’s daily lives, that we were present in person. One of the greatest regrets of my life (alas, I told myself when I was young that I would live a life with no regrets, but it happens to the best of us) is that I have not had the opportunity to be engaged and present during the childhoods and growing-up years of these distant children; children of parents whose friendship I cherish. There are so many splendid children out there who were raised by or are right now being raised by people close to my heart and they don’t know me and I don’t know them.
Once in a while, I have the opportunity to meet some of these young people all grown up. How I love these encounters. This weekend the son of dear friends whom I met when I lived in Ann Arbor (where I earned my master’s degree) is visiting me with his girlfriend. I saw this young man once when he was two years old and otherwise I was completely absent from his childhood. But here he is today in my house, speaking passionately about his dreams and his work. I was at the wedding of his parents. I know them well. Every year at the holidays they sent me photos of this man and his siblings as they were growing up. How I studied the photos to get a taste of their family life, the personalities of these children, everything I was missing because of geography. What a treat to get to know him and be a small part of his life now that he is an adult.
Spending time with the children of my friends is its own small miracle. There is also the other type of miraculous in the relationships that my children have with my contemporaries, the friends in my life who have been here for me and for my children while they were growing up. Akili and Tina have asked my dear friend Jim to preside at their wedding. Jim has obtained the proper certification to officially “marry” people through the Universal Life Church. (Pretty much anyone can become “ordained” to perform a wedding this way; Ron has done it and has “married” a few people.) Jim was the best man at our wedding and was present at Akili’s birth. When Akili told us that he and Tina were going to ask Jim to marry them, it filled my heart with gladness. When they asked Jim if he would do it, he cried.
It is not just our own children whom we have watched grow up, but so many others, from near or from afar. I see my friends, my contemporaries reflected in this next generation. I hear this young man visiting me today talking in his father’s voice while expressing opinions that I recognize as his mother’s. I see the beauty of these spirits that we have cultivated and nurtured. My friend Helen, who lives in Scotland, is a poet and her daughter Dorothy, with whom I communicate on Facebook, is also a poet. Dorothy reminds me so much of her mother back in the day when we wrote haiku together. I have not seen Helen since 1980 (we communicate on Facebook often). My friend Karen, who is Chinese-American, married an Englishman and emigrated to England where she lives in Cambridge. I have not seen her since she left California with her husband. She posts photos of her creative and beautiful multicultural daughter Xo on Facebook. I feast on those photos of this child, who just turned nine. I communicate regularly about parenting with my dear friend Jessica’s daughter Callie, who has two little daughters of her own (Jessica’s beloved granddaughters) and who works so hard to be a great mom. I also enjoy hearing from my children and my friends about the ways in which my contemporaries and my children interact.
A new dimension of relationship opens before me as my friends, who have traveled through this life with me, carry friendships forward and bring them to bear on the next generation. I find this more than merely comforting, I find that it brings me tremendous joy and a sense of pervasive peace. It is exceptional. It was worth waiting for.
Here is the photo of my goddaughter Stella sent to me this morning for Easter Sunday.
Her mom Gayla went to college with Ron. We have known Gayla since she was 19 years old.