My relationships through numbers: I am 54 years old. My youngest friend is 21. My oldest friend is in her 80’s (she won’t tell me her exact age, but she spilled that much over one too many glasses of wine one night). My 30-year-old daughter thinks these friendships are cool and my 28-year-old son finds them bizarre.
Maybe it’s a female thing, the fact that we women value our relationships so deeply that at some point we stop noticing mundane details – the youthful luster of one friend’s hair and the graying spikes of another’s – and just appreciate them for the way they make us feel, act, think, and believe.
Multi-generational friendships are not something I sought out; they just sort of happened to me as a matter of course. But if I were to tell you that one of my youngest friends helped me find my dream job and one of my oldest changed my life’s priorities, it might make you ask yourself why you’re still hanging out with your same-age crowd.
I was fortunate to spend 24 years as a high school teacher. One could say that being around teenagers kept me youthful, or at least young-minded, as I laughed with them every day and spent enough time with them to know how special they were, teenage angst and all. As they graduated, some kept in touch, and when Facebook became a thing, they sent me friend requests. This made staying on each other’s radar so much easier, but it did another thing – it gave me a window into their adult lives and allowed me to see how they evolved.
One of my former journalism students is now in her thirties and works, as I do, as a freelance writer. When she scored her first byline in Southern Living, I sent a congratulations message and asked how she had done it. This led to a phone conversation that opened my eyes to how things have changed in the publishing world. I had been sending emails when all along I should have been following people on Instagram and Twitter. Who knew? She did because she is young and hip and technologically savvy. When you’re my age, you suffer in at least one of those categories. In a true “student becomes the teacher” scenario, she schooled me in the way things are done now, and without her, I would never have known.
My eighty-something-year-old friend is equally wise but benefits from a lifetime of experiences bolstered by the benefits of hindsight. She regales me with stories of the joys of grand and great-grandchildren and reminds me that what’s going on in my career is woefully less important than what’s going on with my family. She has shown me – with her own body and mind – how important it is to take care of myself, to stay healthy and strong, and to be active. She reminds me that giving back to the community in which I live is my way of building a better community for those who come after me. She shares her mistakes so that I might avoid making them myself. And she tells me I should seek and try and explore anything I want to because looking back, life went by in a flash.
The beauty of multi-generational friendships is that they provide a wide-angle-lens-view of life. My young friends electrify me with their enthusiasm and their “world is my oyster” view of life. When I’m feeling tired and bored, they invigorate me. My older friends keep me focused on the here and now and remind me to slow down and savor life. The irony is really quite astonishing – both generations are 100 percent right.
I’m grateful for my young and old friends. Where one teaches me how to maneuver in an ever-changing world and reawakens my enthusiasm for sidelined dreams, the other reminds me to stop running, to relax, and to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
They are bookends to a life well-lived, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.