For 25 years, I have been the Young Friend. What I mean is that I did not fit in especially well with most of my peers as a kid, so I gravitated toward the adults, who understood and appreciated my quirks.
In the back of my mind, I knew I was playing a dangerous game: If all your friends are 20+ years your senior, there will come a moment when you are left alone. When you reach that moment, you face a question: What do I do now?
I have a few friends my age. Some go way back; some are newer. The older I get, the more I find I have in common with my peers. Age is a great equalizer. But I have always cherished my older friends. And I have always known I couldn’t keep them forever.
Nearly five years ago, my friend Laurel died unexpectedly. I treasure the years I had with her. We had a host of things in common and delighted in discovering them, usually over sushi. She was nearly 30 years my senior, but we might as well have been sisters. I miss her.
In late November, while I was busy surviving COVID-19, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Anna, lost her battle with lung cancer. Anna was my sophomore English teacher. She was my parents’ sophomore English teacher. She was also one of my biggest cheerleaders. If not for this godforsaken virus, I would have headed back to Illinois to see her the minute she told me she was sick.
When I got word that she had slipped away, I wondered: What next? What do you do when you’re the Young Friend, and your Older Friends leave you?
The answer is: You become the Old Friend. I started grad school this semester (something Anna had long nudged me to do), and I soon befriended a young classmate. The book in this picture is a Christmas gift she sent me, along with a sweet note that sounded a lot like something I might have said to Anna or Laurel.
I still miss them. But I am not as lost as I thought I’d be. I understand my role now, and I honor them by fulfilling it. I have always loved circular plot lines, and Tiara’s gift completes a circle.
This new role is strange, yet oddly familiar and eminently comforting. I embrace it. As Sandy Denny said: “I do not fear the time.”