Essential Tracks: Walking the Path of Age Old Remembrances of Childhood Friendship
“Why is it that you women who came of age in the 70’s are so strident?”
That was the question posed to me in 1997 by Anne, my young neighbor who was then all of 25 years. The ‘women’ to whom she referred were my group of female friends, most of them in their early to mid forties, with whom she was fully acquainted through her sister who was part of our network.
She posed the question as I was sharing some tidbit about how I had handled an intimate matter in a previous romantic relationship. Although I was a fairly private person I decided to risk exposing this rather personal detail in an effort to help her, I thought, understand how confused and contrary men could be. Especially when they were in relationships with women whom they did not deserve (that would be ‘us’, of course).
Whatever did she mean? As I paused to roll her question around in my head I gave my current situation a quick once over …I had a decent job that allowed me to travel internationally, I was in a stable relationship …of sorts, but, most importantly, I enjoyed that coveted ‘independence’ which I had been told was the ultimate goal for every woman of substance.
Then I remembered something.
My good friend Marva (author of this Blog) and I as schoolgirls would observe with disdain how tough, critical, acerbic and just plain ol’ miserable many older women were in their interactions. We vowed NEVER to be like them when WE got older. No, we were going to be women of substance, strong, independent, assertive, loving, and generous as we balanced careers and family. I even remember Marva suggesting that she would be content to be a housewife as long as she had her books around her.This raised eyebrows in our A Level English Literature class and left me wondering if my good friend was not taking this nurturing thing a bit too far. Too many Jane Austen novels, perhaps?
Tattered but Treasured books from Marva’s Childhood Library
On the other hand, the arguments and reflections from our weekly debates and interrogation of ideas as we studied the French Revolution, West Indian slavery and emancipation, juxtaposing the world of Chaucer, the poetry of Eliot with the writings of Virginia Woolf and Joseph Conrad pushed us headlong onto a track of argumentation that served to keep us on the edge as we contemplated our own place in what we had already discerned to be a complicated world. We decided that when the tough times came, as they would, we would embrace our challenges with grace and elegance, with deep reflection of the ideas confronting us balanced with an assertion of our own perspective. (Years later Marva left for the United States and contact became occasional at best.)
So why was Anna describing me as strident? Had I become the very persona that I had once rejected? It was true that I had had a few knocks as could be expected, including…
- Two major heartbreaks
- One significant career setback that left me shaken and uncertain about my future as a corporate player
- Several personal encounters with unwelcome corporate competitors that left me battered and bewildered
- The loss of a chunk of my significant friendships to migration, marriage, divorce and death
I also recalled that once my tennis partner threw his racket into the net in exasperation because he thought that I was too uptight. “Can’t you RELAX!” he shouted, before striding off the court. The interesting thing was that at first I was unaware that he was addressing ME (LOL).
This remembrance fueled by Anne’s question pushed me headlong into a wave of critical self- assessment.
Had I really become one of THEM? Was I ALWAYS one of them? For years after that encounter with Anne I would check my actions against the yardstick of them especially when I was in a position of power in my dealings with co-workers, staff and friends. Some days I felt that her comment was justified, other days I felt the comment was quite south of who I was inside.
Reconnecting with Marva through social media brought back some of these remembrances of those school days when we knew it all and with the bold exuberance of youth, began to lay down the tracks of the path we would travel towards our future selves. Today, my perspective, though firm, is balanced by an understanding of how life can intervene and throw experiences in one’s path that no-one could have discerned so many years ago. I laughed heartily at a photograph of Marva on Face Book, posing like a diva in a vacation photo taken on one of her annual summer trips to Jamaica. I thought, that girl is still as crazy as ever, embracing life, refusing to give in, refusing to be cynical.
Today, life continues to throw me curved balls that constantly jerk me out of any complacency I might have assumed on this essential path called life. As I recall my youthful days as student poised to conquer the world with the rightness of my ideas, a modern female empowered to lead others by my own example, I have learned that the cynical insistence on independence and the truth of my perspective is really a mirage because we do need to embrace the wisdom of each other’s experiences, realizing that giving and receiving is part of the flow of life and that the greatest gift we can give each other as friends is the freedom to express our essential selves without assigning labels. It has been a hard lesson. And there are times when I protest…loudly…no, I am not that older woman! But I reflect and realize that there is beauty and joy and fulfillment in every age along the continuum and it is essential that we view life through wide angle lens regardless of where we are located and embrace the possibilities that our experiences present to us. And so today, I strive to keep my composure under pressure. I look around at the friends and acquaintances with whom I constantly interact and I seek opportunities to replace cynical with questioning, hard with insightful and hope that the next time I run into Anne, she will smile and think, there goes an empowered woman.
Claudette White is a business consultant who specializes in project development and management. She lives in St. Andrew, Jamaica where she volunteers with the National Children’s Home.