Monday, April 21, 2008

Friendship has no age limit

I was dozing, enjoying a lazy Sunday, when I got an unexpected call. It was my friend Deirdre (yep, same spelling), phoning from her San Francisco home.

Deirdre and I met years ago at a party thrown by a mutual friend. Even though we seemingly had nothing in common but our name -- or maybe because of it -- we instantly clicked. She and her husband, Chris, are both more than 20 years older than me, but they have the look and energy and bohemian lifestyle of a couple much younger.

When I talk to Deirdre, it's as if I'm a student sitting at the feet of a master, and the subject she is schooling me on is Life. I always come away from our conversations feeling invigorated and enlightened. Yesterday, we talked for more than two hours about politics, religion, osteopathy, the business side of art (she's a poet; Chris is a painter) and more. Every topic was spiced with Deirdre's stories -- she's tells the most amazing stories, usually from her own life. A highlight of yesterday's chat: when we talked about early childhood memories, Deirdre recalled a World War II experience. Every family in the neighborhood except hers had blackout curtains (so interior light wouldn't show outside), and one night she opened the refrigerator. A policeman came to the door, Deirdre said, and exclaimed, "you're the only light in San Francisco. Are you trying to get us bombed?!" You don't learn stuff like that in high school history class.

I had another friend like Deirdre when I lived in California, a man who wrote columns for the newspaper I worked for. When Les stopped writing for the paper I would go visit him and Jessie Lou, his beloved wife of more than 40 years. They lived in a chichi retirement community on a golf course, but were close enough to the area's u-pick farms and produce stands that we'd have breakfast or lunch, then go get baskets of fresh fruit and veggies. All the while Les and Jessie Lou would regale me with funny stories of their travels and early years together in New York and Les's stint, decades ago, as a door-to-door salesman in the rural South.

When Les became gravely ill and was admitted to the hospital, one of his sons contacted me. I was there with his family during one of his brief periods of consciousness. Les's gaze flowed over the people gathered around his bed, then his eyes settled on me. I smiled and said hello, and his eyes softened. His son nudged me. "He recognized you," he said with a sweet smile. I never saw Les alive again, but I'll never forget the wealth of stories and advice he and Jessie Lou shared with me.

What I cherish about Deirdre and Les, and other friends who are much older, is that they don't discount "young whippersnappers," but instead embrace people no matter their age and learn from them just as much as they teach. It's the way I want to live as I age, and I think it may be the true secret to staying young at heart.


Anonymous said...

I have a friend like that at work. Lillie is in her 60's and I'm just 25. I used to say she was like my Grandma, but our relationship has moved past that. Despite the fact that we have nothing in common, she really is a good friend now. I value our friendship so much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this today. I've always enjoyed the company of those who are more advanced in age as well as wisdom. I'm even thinking of pursuing a career in long-term healthcare because I've seen the bad side of it, and I know how special these people are, and the impact they have had on my life. No matter how little we may think we have in common with previous generations, I've learned that anything I'm living through now, they've already been there, as weird as that may seem.

I need their guidance, they need to know that they still matter.