My family moved around a lot while I was growing up. I attended three different high schools and one community college just during my high school years. I dealt with the chaos of our frequent moves by turning inward and avoiding making connections with others, in an ineffective attempt to avoid the pain of losing them. In my therapy practice I constantly see people struggling to feel safe in the face of change, so I can relate to this universal challenge. For both personal and professional reasons in my own life I make a conscious effort to cultivate a life of continuity.
So it was a happy surprise a few months back when first one and then another old friend from a formative high school class looked me up on-line (the last name Ruckstuhl really comes in handy for being find-able). One friend was serving in Iraq as an officer, and the other serving subpoenas in California as a defense attorney. We re-acquainted ourselves via email for a while, and then planned a reunion here in Seattle.
We got together this past weekend. In a blur of child-chasing, over-eating, and sightseeing, we did our best to catch up on one another’s lives over the past 22 years. While we are each vastly different from one another, are in locations, professions, political and spiritual belief systems that are divergent, we each delighted in spending time together.
Why? Not just because my old friends were and continue to be intelligent, sincere and slightly quirky people. The opportunity to know as adults the people we used to know as kids is an experience that answers our middle-aged desire for closure, that occasional brain-tickling wonder, “What ever happened to….?”
From our twenties to mid thirties most of us focus on creating an adult life: education, employment, household, partnering, and reproduction. By the time we reach our late thirties we usually have the breathing room and also the urge to evaluate our lives, as well as the ability to look back on our past with some degree of distance and objectivity.
Old friends are story keepers as well as story tellers. One of my old high school friends appreciated my steel-trap memory of her home and family, which she had only a vague memory of. Another reminded me that back in high school I had the fashion sense of a refugee (he said it a bit nicer than that and I in turn allowed him to live).
Scrap books are so popular now days because we instinctively know that telling our children stories of their lives is a way to show our love of and attention to them. As a therapist I have long been concerned with the plight of children in foster care who lose the stories of their biological parents and subsequent families through placements in multiple foster homes.
These children have no steady story keepers in their lives to remind them of their first words or favorite grade school teacher or of their natural areas of interest. They have no human mirror to look into to recognize themselves. I would love to see CPS (child protection services) incorporate the creation of a secondary file for each child removed from their home that provides information, photos, and descriptions from the biological and foster families as well as school personnel.
In the meantime I urge everyone to do this: Consider your own narrative. What are the themes and repeating lessons in your life? Who are the people who inspired and supported you? When were the times when you felt most content? If we are careful archeologists, excavating our life stories we can then become architects, building a life we love.