Reading the opening to O. Henry’s ‘After Twenty Years’ fascinated me when I encountered it many years ago as a suggestion for a ‘what happened next’ creative writing exercise during teacher training. I remember using it some time later and enjoying the individual interpretations the children produced, many and varied in their outcomes, as the reunion played out on the pages I had been given to mark.
I also recall thinking how incredible it must be to keep a date for so long (twenty years is a lifetime, right?) and yet, on Friday evening I did just that. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t a date that was quite set twenty years ago, but it was one that resulted from a first meeting twenty years ago, when, young and very much properly ‘away from home’ for the first time, we started university together.
On the way to our meet-up, I got a bit nostalgic, thinking about how much had changed since that September in 1997:
I’d never lived away from home before.
I’d never owned a car.
I’d never been to a funeral.
I’d never heard of Google.
I’d never realised that a seemingly chance encounter with a Chuppa Chup bearing santa could one day lead me up the aisle.
And, in the interests of a reasonable wordcount, last for now ( but by no means anywhere near the end of the list) I’d never owned a mobile phone, something that shocked and confused the children when they learned the prehistoric limits of technology a whole twenty years ago.
While we were the same people meeting around a table in a restaurant as we had been meeting all those years ago in our halls of residence, we were also entirely different people, because life has a way of changing us as we venture down the many roads on which it takes us.
As we reminisced about some of the things we did, the sleep we didn’t take advantage of before we knew what a precious commodity it would become and the unexpected impact of a talcum powder/ hairdryer combo under a door, we laughed at the shared experiences of our youth and the memories that they created so deeply in us. (We also thought about how thankful we were that we now know the things to prepare/keep forever from our own children, as we plead future innocence to the next generation.
For me, the memory of arriving late and last ( some things never change) on a Sunday night will always be sound-tracked by Carolyn Stewart on ‘Light’s Out’, followed often by talking into the small hours of the night, planning futures and honing the store of incredible wisdom and maturity that we all possessed, living away from home and being independent. Oh how naive we were!
As someone who has, on countless occasions, been truly thankful that my first choice for accommodation was turned down, I believe that these ladies came into my life for a reason and their distinctive individual personalities, characteristics and life stories are what help to create memories we can look back on and enjoy for years to come.
Beyond university, time, distance and life in general mean that meeting up isn’t always easy, but the ties still remain and there are shared experiences which would, undoubtedly, never have happened, had it not been for the combination that our uniquenesses served to create.
In the intervening twenty years we’ve celebrated each others’ joys, wept with each other in sorrow and shared in each others’ pains. We’ve also had many rants and moments of off-loading that somehow living, and, I suppose, doing life together has enabled us to do. I mean, there are very few chat groups where you can send out a prayer request, get a new bolognese recipe, get help with your daughter’s maths homework and question the sanity of your husband all in one go. (Only joking boys, think you answered that questioned when you put a ring on it all those years ago 😉).
Our wee reunion reminded me of a few things: 1. We can still laugh together to the bemusement of fellow diners. 2. We have been a huge part of each others’ lives through some of our most significant times and 3. Time, distance and life may change us, but there are certain bonds that, once formed, are there for life.
It was a real joy to travel down memory lane and recall some of those times that only we could ever really laugh about together. ‘You had to be there’ is definitely a phrase that would have rung true to any keen-eared fly on the wall listening nearby.
Thank you for, the ‘moments like these’ the memories that we share and, the ones yet to be made.
As C.S. Lewis once said, ‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art … It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
Never underestimate the power of the unnecessary. Remember, there was a time when that’s how we saw Google and, yes kids, even mobile phones!