A Gathering of Friends
Bill Long 11/27/04
When I received an invititation from a friend to spend Thanksgiving weekend with her and four of her friends, two of whom I knew already, at a palatial spread on the SW Washington (State) Coast, I accepted the invitation, though with a slight hesitation. The hesitation, I am almost ashamed to admit, related to age. I am 52, my friend is 55 and the four people who would meet us there are in their mid-to-late 60s. Using sociological jargon, this group was not my "cohort." But since I knew that 5/6 of us would be lawyers and all were reasonably intact in the most important mental and physical function, and because I have had confidence for decades that I can skillfully relate to almost anyone who speaks English, I quashed the inner voices of hesitation.
As it turned out, it was a wonderful weekend. And, it seems to me, it was wonderful in great part because my hosts and friends were older. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to skip my 50s, but the weekend emphasized for me ways in which age/maturity can be an advantage in the building of human community.
Age and the Reflection on Experience
I had a chance to have three really good personal conversations over the space of 48 hours. Each was different from and, I think, significantly deeper and more wide-ranging than I could have had with a 40-something or even early 50-something. Each of the three people with whom I talked was a fairly widely recognized legal practitioner but, even though I talked "shop" with them for a while, I was more interested in other parts of their lives.
For example, one of my friends is a man in his mid-60s, Yale '57, who took a long academic detour through a Ph. D. program in philosophy at UC Berkeley and then a brief (seven-year) university teaching career before turning to law. So, we tried to reconstruct the philosophical/educational world of Berkeley in the early-1960s. References to linguistic philosophy, Wittgenstein, and members of the philosophy department at that time were interspersed with memories of teaching and students. He had Mario Savio, founder of the Free Speech Movement, in his class but Mario unfortunately never got around to attending class. It seems that revolutionaries are often not the most regular attendees in intro philosophy sections. We discussed how the academic world of philosophy had morphed over the years, with the gradual return of history and problems to the forefront in many university departments.
Another conversation was a wide-ranging discussion with a woman, also in her mid-60s, Stanford '60, whose family on her father's side had moved as Tories to Mississippi in 1773 to escape what they (rightly) perceived to be a coming war of revolution. This Presbyterian clan was instrumental in beginning several Presbyterian churches in MS, most of which later fell on rough times (Presbyterianism is not a dominant, nor even significant minority, movement in MS). We talked about religion and why I believed the religious expressions of many people in 2004 differ significantly from those of their parents and grandparents. Brief intellectual tours through the history of the holiness and Adventist movements, the growth of Pentecostal religion and the Assemblies of God in the twentieth century brought us to the question of how liberal Christians (which she is) could find a space for religious and political expression today. I assume that is a question that millions of other liberal Christians are asking themselves today.
I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that the third conversation, with a man who was also Yale '57, centered on antitrust litigation in the early 1970s and the way that the Reagan administration had decided to apply the antitrust statutes. I became aware as we were talking that the cases and principles which law students learned regarding antitrust today were some of the cases and principles he helped shape.
I am not suggesting that 40-50 somethings don't appreciate or can't put together good food. I am saying, however, that this group made such colorful, nutritious, tasty and imaginative meals that it had to come from a near life-time of attention to food preparation. For example, the salad we had the day after Thanksgiving was more colorful than the entire state of Kansas when I lived there from 1990-96. A mole sauce on the turkey, a chili sauce bathing the polenta, a delicious squash pie, and several other items made all the meals "to die for" as they kept telling each other. Fortunately, no one chose that option this weekend.
Giving Each Other Space
For the first time in my life, I was with a group that truly respected what it meant that I need a lot of space to be my creatively wonderful self. They understood when I wanted to slosh through cranberry bogs or visit long-abandoned oyster beds or look in windows of abandoned 1907 school buildings and leave them all behind. They accepted when I sat among them typing away, not listening to them while they talked about their kids or grandkids or something else. They, probably unwittingly, gave me the greatest gift of "space" by tiring early. Each of the two evenings all five would all "retire" by about 10 p.m., leaving me the freedom to think, write, research and generally lose myself in the thoughts that cascaded through my brain.
Writing for me consists of three different processes: (1) reflecting on and organizing research; (2) putting together thoughts that have percolated for years but are seeking a mode of expression today and (3) combining words in an arresting fashion through Billphorisms or lapidary prose.
So, rather than "leave my work behind," which I didn't want to do, I "took it along." I gathered data, organized it, reflected on long-held life concerns, fused together words that don't normally belong together, and continued my writing.
Though there definitely were differences between the 40 and 60-somethings ("Honey, what was the guy's name who said....?" or "Does anyone have some extra ibuprofin?"), I for one preferred this group. I now know I have lots to look forward to.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long