Sunday, August 30, 2009

No Happy Ever After

Facebook is a new tool for me. I was dissuaded from joining for a long time by Marissa, who was pretty adamant that it was a tool for college students or recent graduates, and I was too old for it. I got the definite impression that my joining a social networking site would embarrass my daughter to the core. On the other hand, however, was my friend Francine, who had her own page and had invited me to join, encouraging me not to be intimidated by Marissa. Finally, not too many weeks before I left for the fateful trip to West Virginia, I capitulated and set up my page. The irony is that Francine no longer has a page, while Marissa and I are Facebook buddies. However, I harbor no illusions that I am too old school to use all the bells and whistles; the first time someone engaged me with a live chat totally threw me for a loop. I managed to figure out how to respond eventually, but it was another couple of days before I learned how my friend knew I was logged in. The birthday thing totally got me. Marissa had to explain to me how everyone knew it was my birthday. There are some downsides to it, primary among them the problem with spyware I've had since joining. But, what it has done for me outweighs that issue so far. I am "friends" with a Steeler page that puts me in immediate touch with hundreds of my fellow fans, which is fun. But, mainly I love that I've managed to re-connect with some old, old friends who I'd let slip out of my life. Some of them are friends I've known since my first real career job with Martine Properties some two decades ago, but recently some of my old high school friends have found me, or vice-versa, many of whom I haven't seen since walking out of the Montana State University field house on graduation night. Others I lost track of gradually, but still, for whatever reason, allowed to drop out of my life, only to find myself wondering what became of them from time to time. We have been catching one another up on our lives during the interceding years in short one and two paragraph bursts. My friends are scattered all over the country doing all kinds of work. One woman actually lives in Texas. But, for all the myriad directions we managed to go, I was gratified to find that, if I liked them when I was 17, I like them now. We are, at our core, the same people. We vote the same party, we read the same kinds of books, watch the same kinds of movies that we did three decades ago. Some of these new-old connections have picked right back up as though no time has past at all, others have been a little more tentative, but I am grateful for them all.

As I gradually read their stories unfold in our little messages back and forth, I am struck by how many of us have experienced something deeply traumatic already in our lives. Cancer is a common thread, but others have lost spouses or siblings. Some are out of work and on the bitter edge of bankruptcy. I don't discount the stress that brings, having been there myself before. If I were 20 years older, this wouldn't surprise me so much. If I lived a century ago, it would be expected. But, come on, we all live in the dawning of the 21st century. It seems that the old statement, "In every life, a little rain must fall." is pretty true. But, why does the rain have to be so acidic? I was in no way expecting the level of loss and pain that has visited most of the people I know. I've been trying to process that; trying to find some meaning in it. Would anyone around my age find the same thing in a sampling of their friends and acquaintances? Or am I somehow sadly unique? What is it that we are supposed to learn from tragedy, and is that why Fate makes us endure it? Couldn't we learn the same lesson a less painful way? Why, in short, is life so damned hard?

I try not to compare my own situation with anyone else. Everyone is unique, as I've said before. All their trials are painful to them on their own individual level. I try not to allow my own pain to swallow me up and not allow me to be present for my friends, old or new, if they need a virtual shoulder. That's a work in progress, I have to confess. But, I like that most people have gradually felt comfortable enough to make me aware of their own situations and trust that I would not belittle it by stacking it up against my own and telling them it doesn't measure up, or at least I think they have. For, if there is anything all of this has taught me, is that I want to be a better friend because I would not have made it out of the first hard week without mine. I am sorry that is still a goal that is for my future. I am still a little too tender to be much use to those around me.

Still contemplating Senator Kennedy's life, I would like to have asked him if, after so much loss and hardship, did he find the sunset out over the ocean more beautiful or less so? Maybe we have to face real hardship to appreciate what we do have. I actually don't doubt that's true. But, why is it then none of us were told to expect this level of chaos in our lives? We all grew up, on some level, to believe the fairy tales our mothers read us at night. Wouldn't we have been better served to have been prepared not to live happily ever after? When I think about it, my friends and I grew up during a unique time. Too young really to be touched by Vietnam (we knew about it and some of us lost family to it, but none of us would have served), too old for the Gulf War, we were a generation raised in relative peace and prosperity. We were called the Me Generation. I always thought the recreational drug use that was rampant during our disco days was a way to enter some drama into otherwise uneventful lives (that wasn't my way, I have to confess, but I found other outlets, trust me). We watched Leave it to Beaver re-runs and Happy Days. We grew up believing we would go off to college, have great careers, healthy children and 1.5 pets. We would sip wine or drink beer and watch football on the weekends and never grow old. The reality is shockingly far from the vision, and I wonder if our parents did us a disservice allowing us to grow up believing the Kennedy's were somehow cursed and nothing like that would ever happen to us. Because it has and does. Now, can we teach our own children how to expect that rain to fall without dashing their hopes for a happy, fulfilling life? How does one reach that balance? I don't know, but I believe it is ultimately kinder than empty promises of a life untouched by sorrow.


  1. I wasn't raised that way. I was raised to believe life was battle, a fight AND you were going to lose, it would eventually beat you but you were to go down swinging. In fact, if anything it has been that attitude that I have had (and continue) to try and overcome. I specifically remember an "ah ha" moment with my mom. I had competed at school for something, I can't remember what. I think it might have been an art contest or a writing contest, and I didn't win. The "pretty girl" who was always sweet and precious won. Even though mine was better (I was completely objective, of course) I was crying and told my mother it wasn't fair. Her response? "Who told you life was fair? I never told you life was fair". It stopped me from crying, kind of stunned me actually. Because I realized no one did tell me life was fair. Where did I get that idea? I thought about that for a long time (for a kid) and it stuck with me. Life isn't fair. It just - is.

  2. I'd be interested to hear other readers' take on this. What was your upbringing like?