When I was in college, senior week/commencement happened at the same time as all the reunions. My house always hosted the 60th reunion, with alumnae staying in the rooms vacated by the undergrads. A few undergrads stayed to help out with the activities or because they were members of Glee Club and needed to stay to sing. Of course, all the seniors were there enjoying the campus for the last few days before graduating. I was always really taken by the vitality and zest for living of the alumnae there for their 60th – in their early 80s, they were excitedly meeting up to chat, climbing the stairs without seeming exertion, heading out to activities, and marching in the Ivy Day parade without any problems. My friends and I marvelled at their long-standing friendships, intelligence, wit, and wisdom and hoped that, in 60 years when it was our turn to be back there, we would be as gracious and engaged with life as they were.
The one comment that always gave me pause, though, was many of them saying that years at Smith are the best years of life.
We students had just all come through another hectic semester, filled with learning and friends and growth, but we were also often anxious, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmingly busy. I would think – please, no, tell me that this is not as good as life gets.
My mother-in-law would cite the years she was at home with her young sons as the best. I loved my own young daughters and was constantly amazed at their lives unfolding before me as I tried my best to care for them and help them learn about themselves and the world. But those years were also filled with lack of sleep, innumerable trips to the doctors’ office, budgetary wizardry, and mistakes – which, even though I tried to rectify them as quickly as I made them, still carry tiny twinges of regret. So, was that supposed to be the best?
Others nominate childhood or high school – no one seems to pick middle school – as the best years. They somehow remember those times as carefree, but they are often times when young people are being pressured to conform to being members of groups that may not suit them well at all and are confronted with adult-size problems which their child or teen selves are not equipped to handle – and somehow adults expect them to make decisions like adults, which they decidedly are not.
I agree with my (very wise) mother. There is no “best age.” Phases in life are certainly unique and have their own charms but they also have their own problems. I would not trade my years at Smith for anything. College was a unique experience. I learned so much about so many different topics but most of all I learned about myself. And I learned as much from my peers with whom I lived as I did from my professors. Being in a women’s college taught me so much respect and admiration for women’s capabilities and leadership. I don’t think I would be the same person were it not for those for years.
But that doesn’t make them “the best.” That time was often difficult and sometimes lonely. I missed my family and my boyfriend (now my spouse of 30+ years). The intellectual work was stimulating, but also exhausting as I always tried to do my very best. Even at Smith, there were instances of lack of respect for women’s autonomy, especially in having to deal with church issues, which, as a Catholic organist, I frequently did.
The same mix of positives and negatives applies to other times of my life. None of them ever could or should be seen as “the best.”
What I feel called to do is to give my best and try my best at all times of life. There will always be some good even in the midst of bad times and some struggle even in good times.
But never any one time as “the best years of my life.”
This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. This week’s prompt was: young, old, or anything to do with age. Please join us! Details are at the link below.
Badge by Doobster @Mindful Digressions