Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Princeton Reunions

My dad told me today that I am invited to join him in May for his Princeton Reunion. This event is by far one of my very favorites. I will spend the day meeting handsome white haired men who have travelled the world, invented technologies, scaled mountains, cured diseases, and started and sold businesses over the span of their many decades. I will be flattered and complemented. I will be told story after story. I will keep pace and challenge them to outwit me, which they probably will. I will be amazed, impressed, jealous, excited, inspired, and energized by the potential for adventure, brilliance, and success in my own life after learning about theirs.

My father's alumni friends are so enjoyable and impressive that the long day, covering breakfast through dinner and a wonderful evening speech by a particularly brilliant genius, will fly by, and I will feel such regret at having to part, come 9 or 9:30 in the evening.

I don't know how to explain the attraction I feel to these brilliant old men. I actually get crushes on them! They have learned so much and experienced so much and they are so generous about sharing it - as much as I can take - in response to my eager questions. I am certain that I am more attracted to minds than to bodies. And those sharp minds are just as vibrant, if not moreso, than the mind of a 45 year old. There is a humility, a graciousness, that comes with true brilliance. Rather than boasting or trumping up the details of their lives, they enjoy pointing out their missteps and foibles along the way. They know how to laugh at themselves, to admire one another, to recognize my enthusiasm as a worthwhile trait, and to even enjoy a story or two from me as if it were just as exciting as their safari, crash landing, or discovery of an island in the South Pacific not on the map in the 1950's.

I hang on every word as they relate their adventures. How did you know to try that? Why did you chose to do it then? Any question that might give me a clue as to their exact process of thought and motivation. Anything I could glean for myself as I face my own future, ripe with potential. They help me not fear. They help me believe risks and leaps and grasping for a dream or an idea are not only o.k., but at least as safe, if not safer, than sitting home watching t.v., where you run the horrifying risk of never accomplishing anything.

I want to climb inside of their minds and watch the movie of their lives, one by one. I want to go home with them and see the photos on their walls and in their albums helping me learn these stories even better so that I can relive them with my white haired friends - the gleam in their eye as they talk about a lost love would be all the more touching as I myself gaze at her photo in a faded newspaper clipping, saved preciously over all of these years.

I know they are not perfect, and I'm sure many of them have done things in their lives that I would not approve of. But I forgive them. I forgive their flaws and misjudgements, their prejudices and narrowmindedness - which I assume could be part of the package. But, to be perfectly honest, I didn't see or hear any traces of these things in my conversations whith them. Plus, my father's friends were not the priviledged and elite Princeton students. He was ROTC, as were his friends - the kids who could not have afforded college without the military. These are the Navy buddies that rode air craft carriers together with my Dad to the Canary Islands, Tahiti, and the Galapagos. Training to be pilots, learning to take off and land over the water. Ditching planes when the next one was coming in too fast. They were regular guys, smart enough to get into Princeton but not rich enough to afford it. But what they did with their education, and the rest of their lives, speaks volumes about who they were all along.

Toward the end of the evening they raise their glass to the members of their class who passed away that year. It's a sad moment, but I so appreciate being witness to it. They remember each other so fondly, even years between meeeting up again at the reunions, and the way they honor one another makes me wonder if I will be able to maintain any of my friendships or even acquaintances as faithfully.

I look forward to growing old one day, having an entire day's worth of stories to tell to some middle aged whipper snapper who yet has a chance to make her mark on the world. But in the meantime, I look forward to the Princeon Reunions this May, and a wonderful long day with my father and his brilliant, sexy, white haired friends.

Holiday Madness

They don't call it Holiday Madness for nothing. I'm sure that many people feel, deep in their bones, that there is an insanity involved with stretching your finances too thin, or going into debt, to appease some force that drives you to meet unrealistic expectations of generosity and abundance. It is as if we all jumped blindly into the pot of cold water with the frogs and as the heat slowly rose, just blinked dumbly until we were cooked.

I can say these things this year. I could not say them last year. Last year I was all in. Spent a grand or more gladly, not knowing that my job would end a few weeks later. Wishing, at the moment I heard I was losing my job, that I could run around and gather my gifts and return them!

This year it's different. No abundance. No generosity. Just yarn and paint and love... and cookies. No tree. No land line. Downgraded cable. And a pile of bills I can't pay. But I'm happy. So happy. Happy to be knitting scarves, mittens, hats. Happy to be drawing and painting... and blogging. Happy to work for a good company that makes a difference in kids' lives. And if I can't afford stuff for Christmas it's fine. We all agreed (all but my oldest, John, who insists on spending money on the rest of us) that we would make and not buy our gifts this year. We're having a ball. We love it!

But there's a secnodary effect I did not expect. As I walk down the street and see the passersby with shopping bags overflowing with stuff and tissue paper, as I go through my mail every day and see the catalogs and the coupons and the special offers, as I overhear the conversations on the subway about the coats and the laptops and the sound systems... I am overwhelmed by a sense that I have been liberated from a terrible mental illness to a bright clarity of thought, freedom from pressure and stress, and it delights me... thrills me... as I realize I do not have to worry about finding the money to meet the high expectations of my family... expectations that I myself created.

As my kids and I talk about what we're making (or keep it a secret!) we are practically giddy with excitement and pride. We know our gifts will be appreciated and celebrated. There is, very unexpectedly, a strong sense that you can't go wrong when you put effort into making something. Maybe because we are all artists and we know it will be worthwhile work. Maybe because you really can't complain about a gift when you know someone offers it with deep, true love in their hearts for you, rather than a sense of obligation. And all of our gifts are being made with love. I can see it and hear it when we discuss our projects (or our thoughts about them). And giving because of love rather than obligation, fear of dissapointment, fear of criticism... what a huge, huge difference.

I look forward to writing about Christmas, and how all of this plays out. But have a strong feeling that it will be as wonderful as I expect. My expectations now are: a lot of love, laughter, and some fun stuff we may or may not need, but will really enjoy receiving.