We met again a few days ago. The oldest of us eighty five, the rest catching up fast. In the 1950’s we had been college students and this bi-annual meeting is an attempt to keep in touch. We meet in a Catholic monastery where everyone else seems old as well. One of us introduced his experience as a trustee of a small charity in Africa. He told us at some length about his recent visit there, and of the nine of us, I and another were perhaps the only ones to remain awake, missing our normal siesta, but perhaps I was nodding too.
There were pictures shown from a lap top which the operator had problems with, and emerging from our slumbers we gave mostly unhelpful advice as to how to be more successful. ‘Double tap’ became a litany. But it was moving to find someone in his mid seventies still exercising the sort of care for others to which all of us had been committed for all the years of our work. There were other projects we were involved in and to which some of us referred.
Retired perhaps but not withdrawn from the sort of care and concern which has been the framework of our lives. There was a report today which claimed that people who go on working after the age of retirement were more likely to resist Alzheimer’s disease than those who don’t. I can believe that to be true.
We weren’t there to exchange health problems or to complain about the state of the Church, but inevitably we caught up a bit with the state of both. Once again we imagined, even ‘saw’ the twenty year old faces hidden now by the signs of age. It even seemed that we were still those young people but pretending to be old, although as we moved around, got up slowly from our chairs, fumbled sometimes for the right word, spilt our sandwiches on the floor, it was plain enough that this wasn’t a pretence, it was real.
The danger in any reunion, and certainly this one, is that it is bounded by a past that is honoured but which can never be repeated.
We only do this twice a year, which I think is enough. Celebration of friendship is one thing. When it leads to backward looking nostalgia there are danger signs for me. Age is real. Learning that the dear wife of an old friend had just died when I came home, reminded me that it is now and what future awaits us that really matters.