This year I started working a full day in the school where I am an assistant teacher, which meant eating lunch in school. At the beginning of the year some of the other assistant teachers invited me to join them for lunch, they eat in an empty classroom in school. They are all my age, women in our 50’s. They have all worked in the school longer than I have, 8 or 10 years and one woman over 20 years. The conversation during lunch most often focused on some injustice that one of them had suffered at the hands of the head teacher, or some policy in the school they were disgruntled about. To say it was a negative environment is an understatement. I usually left with a case of indigestion and in a bad mood, and sometimes was even sucked into the complaining, jumping on that bandwagon. Finally one of the malcontents pushed me over the edge, and I told her I could no longer allow myself to be in such a toxic environment, with such conversations and the constant focus on minding everyone else’s business. I was done.
I found a room down the hall, which it turned out was where a group of assistants also ate lunch, but these were girls in their early 20’s. What a difference. No complaints, no talking about others, instead our conversations revolve around an upcoming marriage of one, the upcoming birth of a baby for another, and the world of dating foibles one girl is experiencing. There are discussions about recipes, what boots are on sale where, and a genuine interest in the good (or the bad) that may be going on in one another’s lives.
I am older than the mother’s of some of these girls, but they share with me and I with them as if we are contemporaries. I am glad to be part of this lunch group, but it has also given me pause: though I may feel I am “one of them”, when I listen to them speak of their futures that lay before them, I am struck by the reality that just as they have so much of life ahead of them, I have lived so much of my life and have it behind me. It makes me think back to where I was when I was 21, not knowing what was to come, now looking back like watching a movie, my first car, my own apartment, a failed relationship, school, a job, meeting my husband, marriage, a step daughter, buying a house, a new career path, weddings and funerals, and on and on. Inside my head I am still in my 20’s, but the lines under my eyes and gravity wreaking havoc with my face, say otherwise. My friends who are my age have the same “reference points” that I have- we have grown up together, kept the same pace with milestones we have have reached, experiencing similar things and changes as we have grown older. They, like me, feel years younger mentally, but in truth we have 37 years of experiences since the age of 21. Sometimes I fall silent during our lunchtime discussions, thinking back to how it felt to turn the key and open the door to my first apartment, the excitement when I became engaged to my husband, the images still so clear in my mind’s eye, but so very long ago. Years before these girls were born. It makes me wistful, while at the same time being thankful for the many experiences I have had and the people in my life I have shared those experiences with.
These new found “friendships” have been a welcome addition to my life at this stage, keeping me “in the loop” of a younger world, making me feel younger in some ways, and much, much older in others. The contrast great between the person I was, I became, and now am.