This is no Japanese horror movie (that was Return of the Blob). Rather, it’s the first post I’ve written since August, in which I commemorated my one-year anniversary of retirement, or my “Retireversary.” Since then, my new norm life has been so abundantly eventful and hectic that I haven’t either found or taken the time to write. Yet, to my surprise and delight, many friends have asked about my blog. And I’ve found that I’ve missed the writing. But where do I pick up?
I have become increasingly aware that the single most meaningful thread weaving through my current life, the central emergent theme, is the significance of my personal relationships. With the corporate career over, the kids gone, the merry-go-round paused; retirement has been a time to take stock. Although I have been busy with travel and activities, what has truly fed me emotionally and spiritually has been the time spent nurturing (and in some cases re-establishing) close family and friendship ties.
In fact, travel has been, most importantly and somewhat unexpectedly, an avenue for my husband and I to reconnect. After years of co-parenting, tag teaming and separations while I traveled extensively for work, adjustments were required when I was suddenly home full-time. I blithely anticipated that all of our “challenges” would miraculously disappear once the stress of work was gone. Instead, not only were many of the “challenges” that we’d successfully ignored for 25 years still there, but now we had new ones. We’ve since gone on 3 major trips together (Paris, our cross-country Routes 50 and 66 road trip, and Ireland) and they were akin to enrolling in an intensive Marriage 101 Lab. Not always easy, we’ve learned (or re-learned) skills such as teamwork, how to live alongside each other, how to compromise and manage expectations, and in the process found renewed enjoyment, companionship and discovered a shared passion for travel. Most importantly, we find ourselves exceedingly grateful and content in this “Just the Two of Us” stage of life.
Similarly, I’ve been blessed by the rich camaraderie of friends. I’ve enjoyed meeting some new friends through recent activities, like yoga and study groups. But mainly, I find myself enthusiastically devoting time and energy to nurturing longstanding relationships (friends and family) that, in many cases, had been relegated to the back burner in years past due to other demands on my time. I am finding that I am most energized and renewed by the company of dear friends. My husband warned me before I retired that my friends would all be too busy working to spend any time with me, but I’ve happily found I have more social opportunities than I have time for!
I was recently reminded how precious, and fragile, long-term friendships can be. Near the end of our recent trip to Ireland, not long after we arrived in Dublin for a 3-night stay, I was notified that a very dear friend of mine was critically ill. We’d been friends since I was eleven years old. We were close friends through high school, and roomed together in college. Not long after college, she moved across country, but we kept in touch over the years. I had hoped to finally be able to visit her in Green Bay, Wisconsin, now that I was retired. But two days after my friend was admitted to ICU, on the last day I was in Dublin, she passed away. That night, I went to a pub and sang a ballad and raised an ale for my beloved friend Sue, who once told me she would love to go to Ireland together.
When I returned home, I organized a gathering of a group of close friends from grade school for a Day of Remembrance. After thinking how I could best grieve the loss of my friend Sue, I turned to this group for love and support. We had all been close friends with Sue through the years, and together we celebrated her life and our enduring friendships.
Someone recommended to me a beautiful book called “Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom” by John O’Dohohue. The book almost poetically explores the spiritual landscape of friendship:
“In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam ċara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and ċara is the word for friend. So anam ċara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam ċara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.”
What this book has illuminated for me, something I already sensed but not completely understood, is that there is a spiritual aspect to our friendships and the effort we devote to them. As I’ve become more aware of their significance, I am grateful that I have anam ċara in my life, and that I have been given this season of life to be open to them.