Why We Need Mature Friends

This story was submitted by Cindy La Ferle over at Cindy’s Home Office.


Until
I met Sylva B., I rarely socialized with ‘older people’ outside my
family circle. When I wasn’t working, I hung out with friends my own
age.  
 
At least 40 years my senior, Sylva was the
silver-haired personnel manager who interviewed me for my first job in
reference book publishing in Detroit. I was 25 then, and desperate to
get my career off the ground. Applying for an entry level position, I
was required to pass a typing test and a two-hour literature exam. I
was so nervous during the session that my fingers froze at the keys and
I flunked the typing test on the first try.

Sensing how much I
wanted that job, Sylva gave me a second chance and I finally relaxed
enough to pass the typing test. That was the start of our friendship,
just a few years before the term ‘mentor’ came into vogue. 

Sylva
and I took the same bus downtown to work every day. Often sitting
together, the two of us launched many provocative discussions on books
and politics with fellow passengers. Widely traveled, Sylva and her
jazz-musician husband had lived in New York City before moving to
suburban Detroit, and she loved sharing her memories of the Big Apple.

She
was an excellent cook, too, boasting a repertoire of gourmet recipes
that even a novice like me could prepare. (She railed against
pre-packaged anything.) On Saturday mornings, Sylva and I would shop at
her favorite produce markets, where I always discovered something new
and exotic. And despite her sophistication, she never made me feel like
the naive dreamer I was. Sylva died of cancer just four years after
we met. But I learned a lot from her, and still count our friendship as
one of my richest. Sylva came to mind while I read Joan Anderson’s A Walk on the Beach,
a charming new memoir chronicling the author’s friendship with a
remarkable older woman. While it’s deeper than most summer reads, it’s
the perfect beach book for women who plan to age with gusto.

Anderson
was 51 when she met Joan Erikson, 92, on a foggy beach at Cape Cod.
Stuck in a midlife crisis, Anderson had retreated to her family cottage
to sort things out and make sense of her ‘unfinished self’. Erikson had
returned to Cape Cod to care for her ailing husband.

At first,
the author wasn’t aware that her spunky new friend was the wife of the
famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson—the man who’d actually coined the
term ‘identity crisis’.  The two women immediately hit it off, sparking
a friendship that would ultimately sustain both women through difficult
times, including Erik Erikson’s death in a nursing home.

A Walk on the Beach is laced with quotable nuggets of wisdom that Anderson gleaned from her daily strolls with Joan Erikson.

“There’s a plan for everyone if you are open to it and ready to unlearn the rules set up by others,” Erikson advised.
The
book also builds a strong case for intergenerational friendship. As
Anderson notes, our youth-obsessed culture rarely encourages us to seek
insight or advice from our elders. But given the chance, older friends
can shed the light of experience on our rocky path to self-discovery.
 
Anderson
inspires us to reach beyond our comfort zones to befriend the
elderly—and to mentor younger women who need mature role models.

“Joan
Erikson was my mentor—not my mother,” Anderson explains. “Once I became
part of her web, it became my duty to pass on what I had learned. For
as Joan would say: Share what you know—be generative. Life doesn’t mean
a damn if you don’t pass it on—and that’s what makes all the
difference.”

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