The “girls” from my college freshman hall came to visit earlier this month. It had something to do with escaping the winter mayhem of the east coast for the warmth of Southern California. Whatever the excuse, we girls try to reconnect every few years or so to take stock of our lives – and this year we marked 40 years since our first meeting.
Just writing those words is shocking. There was a point in my life where the thought of even being 40 years old was unimaginable. And now it’s the number of years it has been since we pulled up to our college dorms as 18 year olds. Who knew we’d get old so fast?
Now I realize that 40 isn’t old at all…it’s about the time we start getting the knack of things, gathering experience and knowledge that is actually of value.
This year my daughter joined us. She lives here, knows all the best restaurants, and although she arrived much after college, she fit right in. It was her perspective that made me reflect on the importance of these women in my life.
“Mom,” she said. “Your college friends are really different than your other friends.”
Curious, I asked, “In what way?”
“Well, they believe different things. They’re not all Democrats, or the same religion, and some work from home and others have jobs,” she noted. “And most of your other friends are more like you.”
She’s right. And that’s when I realized how much is lost when accidents of forced geography stop determining those we meet and get to know.
As kids, we grew up in neighborhoods our parents chose. They were filled with kids who were different than we were. There was the fun girl through the backyards always seeking adventure; the kids with the pool whose grandparents lived next door to watch us; the kids with new bikes, old bikes, and no bikes. That diversity of circumstance, belief, and economics taught us tolerance. We were shushed when we were too loud, told to be kind to the kids with few toys, and always learned to be respectful of people we didn’t always agree with – the credo of the 1960s in our Ohio hometown.
The same was true as freshmen in college when some invisible force - or the residence hall committee – determined where we would be living. There was little ethnic or racial diversity in our dorm, but wide difference in every other way. We were Southern belles, damn Yankees, from huge cities, and tiny hamlets with parents both liberal and conservative leading to both laid back and high maintenance children. Some serious jocks mixed with dedicated sedentary sorts, poets, scientists, math majors, and “undecideds” comparing curriculum and schedules during all night studying. And we generally got along by being respectful, tolerating differences, and working to hear and understand each other.
Today the people I spend the most time with are a pretty homogenous bunch. We generally agree on politics and perspectives on life.
And that’s what my daughter noticed when the college girls came to visit – my old friends have opinions, strongly held, well-articulated opinions. And we violate all of the polite rules of etiquette when we get together. We discuss politics, sex, and religion – always with underlying respect and genuine interest in understanding.
I need to exercise those diversity muscles more often than one weekend every year or so – I’m thinking it’s time to broaden the invitations to our dinner table to ensure we get to listen and hear diverse opinions to broaden our life perspective. Life moves too fast and is too short to get narrow in the way we view the world, don’t you think?