Back in February I abruptly decided to throw a party for my 75th birthday. I’d never had a biggish party at my place, because the layout was difficult—steep narrow stairs, one hard-to-find bathroom, and so forth. But suddenly the penny dropped.. With caterers, the layout would be manageable. With a new bathroom upstairs, traffic flow was simplified. With a new-old couch, visitors could overflow into in the study. I got a handrail for the staircase, and behold, this party was a goer.
Whipping through my memory and contact list, I was amazed at how many people are closely involved in my life. It helps to belong to a big family, even though only two of my sisters could make it. I am still remembering people I should have and would have asked, given more time to think. But even with very short notice, friends and family filled my apartment nicely.
My friend Liz made an enormous heart-stompingly luscious double-chocolate cake, family blew up balloons, and like Hansel and Gretel I laid a trail of glitter on the footpath to my place. Caterers arrived in plenty of time, establishing a calm and competent atmosphere. Ready? Ready. Time to party!
What do you say at your 75th birthday party? At cake-cutting time I shared my thoughts about all these people in my life, and why I was surprised to find myself surrounded by them.
I was a late starter with friendship
I was at high school when I made a friend for the first time. Before that, I wasn’t lonely—I had five sisters, for goodness’ sake, and we comprised a ready-made, self-contained community, so who needed friends? People were friendly to me, but I wasn’t particularly interested in them. Family relationships and the contents of my own head seemed generally more exciting. I needed feeding from within and I still do.
In other words, I was born a happy introvert and only popped out of my own head occasionally to communicate with my family and cope with school. I talked, I listened sometimes, but people outside the family didn’t seem quite … real.
Then along came Elisabeth. Funny, witty, outrageous. Rule follower, rule breaker. Thoughtful, conscientious, and often silly. Also from a family of sisters. Someone who was most emphatically my very own personal friend.
That was the turning point. Very soon I discovered that I already did have other friends: I just hadn’t noticed them. Gosh, people were interesting—who knew?
I’m still happy to sit in a paddock all alone for months at a time writing a book. My own company is still a precious commodity and by now I love it far too much. I’d probably go mad in a marriage. But I looked around at my birthday party in surprise. Gee, so many friends? How did that happen? Somewhere along the way I must have got the knack.
Friends, meet my friends
Until you clap eyes on them, other people’s friends and relatives leave only a fuzzy impression.
My friends must get sick of me saying, “I’ve got a meeting with Alice…” “Kate’s at the Coberg Salsa Festival…” “Elke says to try less hard…” “Jan’s making us do a whole dance with our knees bent…” Sometimes they can't help thinking very loudly, “Who’s Alice? Who’s Kate? Who’s Elke? Who’s Jan?”
This party was a chance to muster friends from different batches into a single room.
Members of my family. My business partner. Capital Choir friends. Dancing mates from Crows Feet Dance Collective. My writing buddy. Neighbourhood friends. Friends from Feldenkreis classes. Literary friends. Ukulaliens. And one-off friends who pop up out of nowhere.
“See,” I said, “Alice is a real person. Meet my sisters Lesley and Deirdre. Look, here are three of my solid gold children, Geoff, Kate and Diana. Say hello to Rebecca and Elsie and Celia.. Meet Felicia, Anne, Denise, John, Richard, Austin...” Strangers had a chance to put faces to some of the magic names.
You are my trampoline
You, my lovely people, provide structure to my week and my year. I meet some of you at ukulele group on Mondays, others at choir on Tuesdays, others at Crows on Wednesday, and so forth. You keep me safe.
You know those fantastic modern trampolines enclosed in a safety net? I think of myself as bouncing up and down and up and down as high as I can, and I always land on the same place and I never fall off.
That’s only possible because of my people. These special people, my family and friends, keep me bouncing and they also keep me safe from hurting myself.
Without my people, I'm not sure whether I would even be me. I am amazed to think this thought, that our very identity may depend heavily on who is in our life. Maybe that's not true. Maybe it's true and unhealthy. Anyway, I'm turning that thought over in my mind.
Please Friend me—no, don’t!
Someone asks to Friend you on Facebook… You sort of know them… Decisions, decisions…
A Facebook account broadcasts your apparent popularity. “431 friends” means no such thing. It means that 431 people including real life friends and relatives, plus acquaintances, plus acquaintances of acquaintances who happen to be on Facebook have drifted into your orbit.
Please Friend me! Well, no—actually, I would much rather you liked or followed this blog or commented on one of the posts. Here am I writing away at my desk, spilling my heart out as part of a personal boot camp for old age, and wonder if anyone is interested. Hello, hello?
Tragically, the blog’s current design does not encourage sharing or comments. Huge empty spaces and tiny, camouflaged Share buttons mean you have to be a tech smarty to see how to do it. Grrrr, talk about minimalist and too cool for school. I’m working on that, believe me.
And seriously, I feel excited and lucky whenever someone makes a comment or likes one of my blog posts. Like everyone, I need a bit of encouragement now and then, so thank you very much.
Image from St. Nicholas [serial] (1873) by Hodge, Mary Mapes, via Internet Archive Book Images. Public domain.