Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Notes from the Senior Bench

Hello all! Today's guest post is courtesy of Rhiannon Paine.  She can be found on Twitter as @calbion or on her site: She is a delightful witty lady, who it has been my pleasure to tweet with.  Rhiannon loves to travel, both physically & figuratively (through books) & write.  For her bio, please visit .  Without further fanfare, here is Rhiannon ...

The Senior Bench is a prominent feature at my old high school in northern California. It sits in glorious isolation at the top of a long, narrow campus, looking down a flight of steps towards the boys’ gym, and only seniors are allowed to sit there.

Not much of a privilege, maybe. But the Senior Bench was something to aspire to when my friends and I went to high school, before sex and drugs were discovered. (Fortunately, we did have rock & roll, like that promising new band called the Beatles.)

That was in the 60s. Today, we’re in our 60s, and “senior” has a different meaning, yet my friends continue to lead lives that surpass anything we might have predicted on the Senior Bench.

Take Mia. Now living an on-again, off-again expatriate’s life in Europe, she recently paid me a visit. Over breakfast, I asked her if she’d once slept in a tent in a war zone. I recalled her telling me so during a previous visit, but it seemed so unlikely.

“The bullets weren’t flying,” Mia said, “but when I was in Zaire during the Rwanda refugee crisis, I showered with the French Foreign Legion.”

Mia and her husband are raising two orphans, aged 10 and 12, and she routinely hosts dinner parties for 20-plus foreign visitors (“I just put a salmon in the microwave”). She was also on board the U.S.S. Roosevelt (“the Big Stick”) while the U.S. was bombing targets in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

None of the other classmates I keep up with has ever landed on an aircraft carrier. Still, our lives haven’t been devoid of incident. Maeve (these are not real names) started her adult life as a stewardess for Air France, only to morph, through hard work and self-education, into a management consultant in Silicon Valley.

She also fought like a bear – our high school mascot – on behalf of a sister who had a brain tumor, making sure that she got the care and treatment she needed. Maeve is not a woman who needs assertiveness training. “I don’t think so!” is one of her favorite phrases.

Our friend Fiona raised two daughters, organized a big city festival for 20 years, and worked as a church secretary, coping with well-intentioned volunteers who messed up her files, lost important documents, etc. She has also kept track of our classmates and organized our reunions. It’s almost scary what Fiona knows about us. I’m sure she remembers the time that I – well, no. I don’t think I should write about that here.

Morgen became a librarian, moved to Alaska, was widowed much too young, and then met a second wonderful man to marry. She’s now the senior librarian for a major government agency in Washington D.C., where her husband just went through his first earthquake. “That’s nothing,” we’ve told him helpfully. “Just wait til you retire to California.”

Finally, there’s Carly, who emigrated to Australia to be a teacher. Carly was almost as adventurous as Mia until she contracted multiple sclerosis. In 1998, another school friend and I flew to Oz and traveled for a fortnight with Carly and two nurses in a van equipped with a hydraulic lift for Carly’s wheelchair. We found that illness hadn’t dimmed our friend’s passion to experience life, to learn, to connect with people, and above all, to laugh.

I admire the grace and strength with which these friends have negotiated their way through rich, complicated, sometimes difficult lives. Our Alma Mater contained the immortal line, “With your faithful hand to guide us, we’ll preserve Democracy.” I don’t know that we’ve preserved Democracy, but we have preserved our sanity. 

As Mia jets back to Europe, possibly to shower with some other Foreign Legion, the rest of us will stay in California. But are the adventures over? I don’t think so!

No comments:

Post a Comment