About 40 years ago, “Mike” was my supervisor at my first professional job. We were both in our 20’s, and although Mike was just a couple of years older than me, he always seemed so much older. Maybe it was his role; maybe it was my being so young, even too young for my age. Mike was smart, and he was funny. He was 40 years ago, and he is now.
I was involved in the evolving feminist movement of the time, and I brought my growing consciousness to my job. I read every month’s issue of “Ms. Magazine” from cover to cover. Now, young women do not realize what women of the last generation confronted; sometimes, when I remember or tell the stories of those times, it seems as if it cannot be true, as if those were ancient times instead of the 1970’s. When I think about the treatment of women the world over, the wage inequalities in this country, the limited rights of women as human beings in other countries, I realize these are still ancient times. We have a long way to go. And that’s an understatement.
Because of my feminist consciousness, Mike said to me one day: “You have to meet my wife.” She worked in the same job as I did, in another office. Many months later I was sent to that office to work for several days, and I met “Jane” for the first time. I remember sitting across from her at her desk for a moment, the conversation beginning. The conversation we began that day would continue until her death, in her early 50’s, over 10 years ago now. I miss her every day. Mike was right. I did need to meet his wife.
Over the years, our lives evolved and changed, as lives do. Mike and Jane moved away, to another state. They had two children, two beautiful daughters. I remained single until my 30’s. Every few months, Jane would visit me for a weekend. She’d drive to my apartment late Friday afternoon, arriving in the evening. We’d sit in my living room, talk for hours, Jane smoking one cigarette after another. At some point, we decided we were hungry, so we’d dress up, put on evening-out makeup, tell each other how wonderful we looked! – and go out to dinner, talking all the time.
What did we talk about? What didn’t we talk about? What do we talk about with those particular people who meet us on so many levels? Still, when I think about Jane now, I realize our conversations were mainly about our thoughts, our thinking, our opinions, our politics, our ideas, our hopes. We didn’t talk about feelings, or motives, or foibles. We didn’t go to those darker, those deeper places in ourselves. Now, I wish we had. Now, I’m not sure Jane could go there at all, although she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.
Our lives unfolded in different ways. We took different paths. I moved across the country, went to seminary, married my beloved at 34, and stayed. Jane and Mike divorced, although I remained friends with both through the years. When Jane met her second husband, I liked him, too, and I was proud to be asked to officiate at their wedding. Ten years later, Jane died of complications from surgery, after she developed lung cancer. I saw Mike next at her memorial service. He came up to me after to say: “Jane would have liked it.” I had my own grief, and I was grateful for his thoughtful comment, but we didn’t connect that day.
By that time, Mike had developed Parkinson’s disease, and it was hard to see him. In my mind, we will always be young. That’s something young people don’t know about – how “old folks” are never old, in their minds. We seem to stay stuck at some age, some age we have always, will always be. Some time, I’ll write about my “stuck” age.
Through the years, I heard about Mike from time to time. I heard about his new marriage through Jane. I haven’t met his second wife, although they’ve been married for many years. I expect that if I did know her, I’d like her, too. I’m connected with Mike and Jane’s daughters on social media, and I can see their mother in them, often. I see her eyes, her expression, her look in the pictures of her grandchildren. I look for her in them, in her daughters. I can hear her in the musings her daughter posts.
Sometimes, social media can actually help people connect. Not just through “selfies” or meaningless comments; in real ways. But the real connection is still real because we are human beings, with feelings, and memories, and relationships, and lives. This past weekend, I saw a picture of Mike on social media, posted by one of his daughters. I “liked” the photo. Later that day, when I checked in again, I had a private message. It was from Mike, and it had been typed by his daughter, who is his caregiver every other weekend.
We “old folks” know how to connect. We know that connecting isn’t simply having hundreds of friends. We know that connecting is something else, and we know when it’s there, and when it’s not. And in that message, Mike connected. He told me some things about his life now, with Parkinson’s. He told me that there had been many changes in his life. He told me a few things about what life is like for him, now. That message has stayed with me. That message has reminded me of so many happenings, so many events, so many images that are a part of the fabric of my life, and have been for a long time. That message brought me gratitude, a gift. That message opened a door in my heart, one of many doors, an important, feeling-filled door. Images arise, moments with Mike and with Jane, other moments with other friends, other connections, other times.
Sometimes, it’s just good to remember, and to be grateful.