We sat, legs propped up on rocks, watching the late afternoon sun swim on the horizon. Two friends, women, sharing the prescient beauty of a sun soon to set amidst blazing orange and purple clouds, its last rays streaming up into the heavens. We walked back to the cottage, a little more slowly than we had walked in past years, full of the sunset’s splendor, to share a light summer meal and talk, the coin of friendships, not woman talk but girl talk … the talk that emanates from being female and feeling the changes of aging.
We were all, no exceptions, successful at the work for which we were paid. Some had achieved considerable fame and wealth, others, less of those two commodities, but equally satisfying acknowledgements of achievements. We were all, no exceptions, looking for something else. Not someone else … something else. There is a big difference. Most of us wouldn’t mind a visit from, say, George Clooney, but I digress and, of course, we are not delusional.
We are the edge of the generation who did it all. Let me tell you about the all part. First, it involved choices. No matter how talented and organized, none of us could bilocate, so being that we are rooted to one place at a time, we have had to choose those places. Oftentimes we have had to not be present where we wanted to be or should have been, not by the values of the business world, but by other values. That was our choice. We survived. Our values, sometimes a bit dented, survived. We tried to make up for the soccer games we missed, the water color lessons we didn’t take, the piano left unplayed, the friendships left to languish untended, books not read and songs not sung, but time slipped by, a raging river of urgency. Things got lost or forgotten.
We have learned to recount these losses, along with the other inevitabilities of aging, as cautions, yellow alerts to that which is still possible. None of us is nuts enough to believe that we can still be astronauts or Miss America, but there are still dreams to be pursued, whether old dreams that have been put aside or new ones, more newly born of our experience. Sometimes we settle for what the day allows, what losses permit.
For some it meant a redefinition of work, culling the parts that no longer satisfy and embracing those that make their souls sing, however off key. That time, it wasn’t the big promotion that was sought, but personal fulfillment in those things that tapped into best strengths. For others, it has been reinvention, chasing some of those old fantasies, taking tango lessons, traveling to exotic places, even solo, writing that novel, some finding, in retirement, the opportunity to try out jobs through volunteering in areas that they have always loved but feared to enter. While some of my friends have become entrepreneurs, others potters, I have always thought of myself as a frustrated dance hall hostess or, alternately, an ethnobotanist. If we redecorated our homes, we also put on new selves, giving priority to those parts of their personalities that were previously denied.
The girls continue to gather, in small groups, to talk our girl talk, girl talk because as girls, we had unscripted futures still to live. If we can recapture that anticipation of discovery, of fulfillment, it will acknowledge that youth within that we put away for adult things. We are careful about spending precious time that continues to rush by even faster than before.
Spending time becomes a measure of priorities. I saw a woman comparing the cost of soft drinks at the supermarket. Some were on sale, a buy-four-six-packs-for-$10 sale.
She examined the cost per ounce of each brand, smiled at me and said, “You never can be too careful.”
I went on with my shopping and later met her at the checkout where she discovered, after examining her register tape, that the brand of soft drinks she had chosen were not those advertised as being on sale. She returned the soft drinks, received credit and went through the line again, this time with the right beverages. I estimate that it took her eight or nine minutes, maybe more, for the entire transaction. All I could think of was how much time and effort it took to save $3. I wondered if God offered her 10 minutes more of life, would she pay $3? This is not a diatribe against thrift, but one clearly extolling its virtues. What constitutes thrift is the question? Is it possible to squander time, to be careless with the minutes, hours and days of our lives? What is the cost of a dream?
For some of the girls, the change will be like the sunset, brilliant and passionate; for others it will be more like refusing to accept a senior coffee at MacDonalds. I am still working on the dance hall hostess thing, which, so far, is kind of like trying to get a job as a shepherdess or as the romantic lead in a movie starring Robert Redford ( OK, he’s old…so am I!)
But behind it all lies the girls who still see possibilities even while applying icy hot and 4% lidocane patches where needed as well as makeup as desired.