The future like a bright ribbon unspooling

I showed up at Princeton anxious, nervous, and, I realize now, quite wounded from two very difficult years at boarding school.  I was incredibly fortunate to find, amid those Gothic towers, magnolia leaves, and foamy keg beer, at last, a place that felt like home … I found a group of women who embraced me.  I still felt insecure, and wondered why any of you would want to be my friend.  I still wonder that.  I look at this extraordinary group of women and cannot imagine why any of you, spectacular as you are, would want to be my friend.

And to think: we met half our lives ago.  We have known each other half of our lives, and that percentage is only going up from here.  Wow.

But today I am thinking of how young we all were then, how naive and optimistic.  The future unfurled in front of each of us like bright ribbon unspooling.  We were so sure, so confident, so silly.  And now I think about what has happened in the intervening 15 years.  Life has happened, and it contains great brightness, as we imagined, but also sorrow, darkness, and difficulty.  Some of us have faced great challenges.  We have witnessed so much in each others’ lives: heartbreak, weddings, triumphs, divorces, funerals, christenings.  We’ve gotten on airplanes and behind the wheels to see each other, on the phone for hours at a time, and written thousands of emails.  We have shared huge moments and tiny ones, the latter sometimes, startlingly, more impactful than the former.

What we’ve done is no less than this: we have become adults together.

On graduation weekend, as we walked in the P-Rade together, wearing our matching orange Gap shirts, arms slung over each others’ shoulders, hoarse with singing and beer, what did we know of what lay ahead?  We knew nothing.  What I wonder is whether it was all already engraved, invisibly but indelibly, on our paths?  Were the bumps and hiccups and detours preordained?  How much of the vast design is set from the start and how much of it unfolds like a series of choose-your-own adventure pages, each decision triggering the next?  I just don’t know.

I do know that it will rain in all of our lives, and for some of us it will be in the form of a flash-flood monsoon and for others it will be a steady drizzle over the course of years.  And yet onward we move, arms linked as they were that hot day in Princeton in June of 1996, staggering now and then, but together, moving, always towards the finish line.  We have supported each other and will again, offering an ear, book recommendations, bottles of wine, and, most of all, patient, nonjudgmental witness.

I can feel you all next to me, your lives flanking mine, my first and most essential peer group.  We have traveled together into careers, graduate schools, marriages, motherhood.  Together we will face the aging of our parents and the growing up of our children.  We have more funerals ahead of us than behind, which is a thought both maudlin and unavoidably true.  We also have, I trust, myriad happy reunions, both formal and informal (thank you Allison, for Homosassa 2010!).  We have the joy of knowing each others’ children and spouses, and of watching each other flourish.  The road is not as linear as I might have imagined all those years ago, when I felt the future sturdy, beating next to me like a heartbeat.  Instead our paths loop forward and back, double into unexpected switchbacks, but of this I am certain: you are with me and I am with you.  Always, no matter what.

10 thoughts on “The future like a bright ribbon unspooling”

  1. Wow. I have to admit, I’m quite envious, not ever having experienced this. The friends that I have in my life have been fluid. And though I count my blessings to have a solid group of six women who I can turn to now, who have seen the birth of my children and many of my struggles, the history you speak of here is a gift. Cherish it, I know you will.

  2. Like Christine, I am envious. Yes, I went to a comparable school but I made certain decisions while there that made for what seems like a very different life. What’s funny is that I haven’t felt comfortable or free writing about it on my own blog – that I had a boyfriend for 3/4 years at Yale and therefore did not nurture a big and wonderful group of friends… I don’t think I have regrets; I am who I am today because of the pattern of my experiences, but I do sometimes wonder. Who would my group have been, and be, if I had chosen differently?

    (I might have to post about this.)

  3. A timely post — will mean a lot to many (to all of us). Thank you. And thank you for illuminating this incredible bond in words that only you can string together. You are my foundation!

  4. What a beautiful description of friendship and life. Although my own experience doesn’t lend itself to a group of women initially brought together by a collegiate experience, it does without question resemble pieces of what you describe.

    In my own nest of women friends, neither geography nor the passage of time, have usurped the connection we have forged, this is a gift worthy of celebration.

    What I love so much about your post is the backward glance at innocence, coupled with the forward awareness, which as I see it, aging brings into focus. Despite the myriad undulations that life has us navigate, shelter is found in the grip of friendship—and that is something to cherish.

  5. I have a group of college friends like this, too. Just last year we organized a reunion (thanks to Facebook!) during which we spent the weekend away from our families just reliving the old days and sharing the news about our current lives. I think I need to go email them right now and start organizing our next trip!

  6. I got a lump in my throat while reading this. (And as an aside, the picture looks so familiar, as we were in college at the same time–same hair, fashions, sunglasses, etc.) I feel somewhat envious, too, as I transferred schools and had a fractured social life as a result. But I am still close to some of the women from my first year. Those friendships are precious and enduring. I was thinking of emailing this post to those friends, but I don’t see a way to do it. Am I missing it?

  7. “We were so sure, so confident, so silly.”
    And we were!
    These days I am so struck by the (largely assumed) confidence I had back then, that I understood things that my parents — older generations — had lost. We held a more pure truth, I guess I’d call it. That’s the real pure truth of the ages, isn’t it? That the young know and see and believe so clearly so strongly, when in fact they have but a thimbleful of experience?
    So we shared a beautiful, naive, pre-experience idealism. Had I not been blinded by and bound to it, who might I be today? Would I even be any different? I think so. But happier? I don’t know. And those dear friendships could only have been forged in a specific time and place and circumstance.
    Aren’t we lucky to have had that!
    Imagine if we could fuse the two, us then and now, the things we might accomplish! Though I fear they are mutually exclusive.
    I guess that’s part of the great value of such friendships. I’m not alone on a journey; we are all on it together, and we now one another now as well as we remember each other then.
    All of that aside, what the heck kinds of friends are you to have allowed me to wear those sunglasses? Good Grief!!! If I didn’t love you, I’d fire you. Somehow I still trust you…

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