Last week I took a trip back home to the Detroit suburb where I grew up.
I had several reunions with people I've known a very long time--friends from grade school and high school, a friend and colleague from my television days, my boss from my first job as an advertising copywriter, and a therapist I've consulted over the years.
I have fond and specific memories of each person I saw. My relationship with them came at times in my life when I was young and unsure of who I was, or when I was working hard to succeed and when success seemed like the most important thing in my life. Some friends knew me when I was struggling to raise a son without a lot of emotional or financial support from his father. Some times were difficult. Some were marked by creativity and accomplishment. Many were filled with anxiety.
But through it all, these friends remained. Not all of them were close to me, and many of us lost touch over the years. But when we reconnected last week, something extraordinary happened, yet it seemed perfectly natural: We picked up right where we'd left off. And after each of these get-togethers with hometown friends or colleagues, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratefulness. I was grateful that I had become friends with such warm, intelligent, competent people. I was grateful that they remembered me and some of the moments, funny or poignant, that we'd shared so many years ago. I was grateful to be in my sixties and still be able to see, to hug and laugh with these dear friends.
And maybe it's because I am in my sixties that I can feel this wonderful sense of gratefulness. How often we were told when we were young, "be grateful for what you have", and we really didn't know what that was supposed to mean. Because we were usually told to "be grateful" when we wanted more. When we weren't at all satisfied with what we had.
Of course, part of becoming mature is realizing you don't have to have more. And that's when gratefulness begins to well up. Nature has a way of protecting us as we grow older (see the research in Robert Butler's book, The Longevity Revolution). I think as we age we experience comforting emotions that maybe weren't available to us when we were younger. Because we need these feelings more now. Gratefulness is one of them. And love for old friends is certainly another.