I remember my Alma Mater

I recently had the opportunity to visit my Alma Mater for a fundraising function.  It is an all-girls school and since I was only blessed with sons, the need to return to the school has not presented itself in a long time.

It’s quite the experience returning to a place that holds your critical formative years as part of its history.  I felt as if I were walking back in time. Everything seemed familiar but with changes. And yet I was a stranger.  The entrance driveway seemed shorter, the roundabout smaller, the landscaping sparse – I remembered so many more trees.

And as I looked back at the entrance, I remembered my father driving through the gates, hanging out of the car window, calling “Ninkins” – his pet name for me – waving his hand to catch my attention.  I was drowning with embarrassment.  And before I could collect my bags, he jumped out of the car and picked them up for me, opening the door and ushering me in with a big proud smile on his face.  I wanted to die.

I smiled now at how silly I was not to understand that my Dad was just so happy to pick me up from school, just this once.  And yes, he intended to embarrass me but in the loving way he always did.

The event started with a Mass, as all events did at Holy Name Convent.  The Hall seemed smaller, filled with HNC girls of all ages.  I remembered faces, but names not so much.  I remembered smiles and expressions and surprisingly I remembered the songs as if it were yesterday.  That familiarity started to creep back in, and I started to feel at home again.

As I gathered together with my classmates, the constant chitter chatter began, and the girlishness sneaked backed in.  The giggles, the stories, the dreams shared.  “Remember when” preceded every sentence, followed by roars of laughter.

The principal captured our attention with her warmth.  She welcomed us back with open arms.  She was engaging and well-spoken with a winning smile.  I hung on her every word.  Something I must admit I seldom did way back when – my attention always being interrupted by some gossipy story or another.  But this day I listened.  And she warmed my heart.  And I smiled.  How lucky the girls must be to be led by her.

Memories jumped at me at every corner.  Standing alone by the tree in the courtyard in the midday sun, retribution for some random act of disobedience.  Sharing our life stories sitting on the edge of the drain (no better place to pour your heart out to your friends).  Pinning paper tails on students (what a bully I was).  Gossiping about the teachers and their love life.  Painting a mural on one of the walls in recognition of our many years at school (well I must have been there for moral support only as my painting skills are non-existent).

It was a time when life-long friendships were formed.  When, cocooned by the guidance and care of the teachers, you built dreams for your future.  You built a base that would support you in the big bad world.  You built memories that would last a lifetime.

How do you say goodbye to someone like Robert…

I lost my friend a few weeks ago.

He was the epitome of what living a free life should look like.  Exuberant, super grateful, embraced every moment, made you feel like you were the best friend he ever had.  His outlook on life was optimistic and infectious.

He gave of himself to everyone he met.

His talent second to none.  As a decorator his events were stupendous.  I always marvelled at his vision for an empty space bringing his magic and making dreams come true – for those dreamy-eyed brides to the Carnival enthusiasts, to the simple business-like occasions made special by his brilliance.

Robert Solomon had his demons to overcome, and he worked every day of his life to win against all odds.  And in my eyes, he did.  I only hope that he knew that he was a winner to all those who loved him.  And there are many of us who do and always will.

Saying goodbye to someone like Robert at such a tender age is difficult to wrap your head around.  I am still at a loss – it is so surreal – a world without my friend.  We were in touch but had not seen each other for a while.  The plans were there but life got in the way.  We had our moments, several of them, for which I am truly grateful.

Would I have done anything differently had I known he would leave so soon?  Probably not.  For ours was a relationship that included a reveal of our feelings for each other every time we met, whether virtually or in person.

I cry every single time I think of him, for my life will be less exuberant without him.  But at the same time, my life has been enriched because of him.

Farewell my friend.  Until we meet again.

Do we leave anything behind…

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reigniting a friendship with an old school friend. Actually we’ve been in contact off and on for the past 5 years, in and out of each other’s life, sharing fleeting moments of the intimacy of our long-term relationship. But very recently only just, once again, we’ve begun to scratch the surface, bringing to the fore the very essence of our relationship. Remembering our past schinanigans, and reveling in the fact that, after so so many years, we can still share our deepest thoughts, in the knowledge that these thoughts will be kept safe and sound.

So that when, as an adult, you talk about moving on and leaving the past behind, I always wonder how in heaven’s name can you actually do this. Your past is never really left behind. You may not want to think about it, remember it, or even re-live it, but the reality is that your past – the things we want to leave behind – is in fact what makes us who we are.

It shapes us, it enriches us, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, we would admit that we keep our past safely tucked away in our hearts. Easily accessible at any moment. We refer to it in times of need. And I’m not only talking about the good memories we want to live over and over again. I’m also talking about those moments and events that, all things being equal, we would not want to re-live. But when we examine ourselves closely, we realise that these are the moments, the bits of our past, that have made us strong, confident, empathetic, warm, gentle, understanding. In essence the moments that have made us more human.

Yes there are many people in my life that live in my past. Some I would love to meet again, some I don’t really care to ever see again. Similarly there are experiences that I would love to have again, and some that, God forbid, I cringe at the very thought and I still secretly thank God that I’m still alive. But the mere fact that I can still feel and respond to these things in my past, tells me that they will always be with me. That in fact I’ve left nothing behind. What I have done is carefully packaged them and wrapped them up, so that one day when I need them the most, I can receive them again in the form that they were meant to be, as a gift in my life.

For, as my very dear friend reminded me,

‘Everything in my life – the good, the bad and the ugly – is a gift’,

and in accepting this, I will live a happier healthier life.

Girlfriends

I’ve had the great fortune of sharing one of the most impressionable stages of my life with someone who I met quite by chance, in a hostel in Grenoble, some 30 odd years ago. Claudia and I bonded immediately through the many trials of escaping the bondage of a hostel run by nuns, finding suitable lodging, fumbling through the tricky time of self awareness and boys, at the same time learning French, as that was indeed our main purpose at the time.

This was a friendship, unbeknownst to us then, that would stand the test of time and distance. We now live in different parts of the world, with our own families, trials and tribulations, our own celebrations. We’ve taken very different paths but always seem to end up in the same place, physically and emotionally. For at the drop of a hat, phone call or email, we can still pick up where we left off (after a quick recap), and continue the journey of life together.

I know that I am not the only fortunate soul to experience this type of life long friendship – and quite frankly there are many beautiful women in my life who have been true to me through my life’s journey and whose friendship I treasure deeply, but this particular friendship never ceases to amaze me primarily due to its very coincidental start, our very different backgrounds, traditions, experiences – and yet we remain friends to the end.

All this to say that when you call your friend of over 30 years, and say “I have a few days free in Europe – what are you doing?”, you know the answer will only be “Where and When – I’m there.” So what better place to meet than Genova and explore the Italian Riviera together.

Having not seen each other for over a year, the catch up time took a bit longer than expected but not even the beauty around us could stop the chatter. We managed to do so however, amidst the ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ as we climbed the stony path to take in the magnificent views from the Lighthouse in Portofino, explored the Monastery dedicated to the Christian martyr Saint Fruttuoso and his deacons and meandered effortlessly through the cobble stone streets of Santa Margherita. At night the gentle breezes of the Mediterranean cooled the warm air making the Prosecco and pasta that much more enjoyable.

Certainly no better location to fit right back into each other’s life.

Christmas traditions – the Novena

Once upon a time, my very good friend shared her Latin childhood tradition of re-enacting the birth of Christ through song. Our kids were just about able to read and she purchased a book entitled “The First Christmas” that they could follow. It was a great way of instilling in our kids the real meaning of Christmas amidst all the noise and clatter of Santa Claus, buying gifts and the general hustle and bustle that has now become synonymous with Christmas celebrations.

As our kids have grown, we still hear the eternal question – “When is the novena Mum” with great anticipation in their voice as this date would determine their Christmas itinerary. What began as a simple get together and reminder to our kids of the true meaning of Christmas, has turned into a landmark tradition for our small group of friends. Over the years we’ve extended the tradition to include friends and family, always with the focus of keeping Christ in Christmas.

The kids still read, the adults still sing, we laugh, we share, we bond. May our friendship and our tradition transcend life’s trials and tribulations. May our kids always keep the real meaning of Christmas at the heart of their celebrations.

God bless you my very good friend, Yvette.