Who Will Show Up for My 80th Birthday Tribute?

A few months ago my sister and I put together a birthday tribute for our mother who was turning 80. We collected video messages from friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors from her long life. We were overwhelmed with a response of over 85 submissions. Some people were so eager to toast Mom that they sent two video clips instead of one.

Since making that video I’ve been thinking about who would show up for my 80th birthday tribute. I’m not the amazing correspondent my mom is and, even before COVID, I’m wasn’t great at maintaining all of my friendships. Just this morning I made a list of five close friends I haven’t spoken to lately, and that’s just people who are local. My contact with my high school and college friends is abysmal.

I find myself in a self-proclaimed popularity contest that isn’t based in reality. I have some friends who I’ve moved away from. It’s not that anything necessarily happened to dissolve our friendship. It’s just time. Enough time going by not calling or texting or emailing that it no longer feels important. It feels apparent that neither one of you really wants to connect, so you both stop trying. Eventually, the juice that fed the friendship engine is all dried up.

When I think of those eight-five people who showed up for Mom’s video, I think mostly about the energy it must have taken my mom to sustain all of those relationships over all of those years. I don’t think I have that kind of energy.

When my mom was seventy, I collected letters from her friends and compiled them into a scrapbook. That project was smaller and much easier. Ten years ago we didn’t have the social media platforms or the proliferation of easily accessible contact information on the internet. I just went by stories my mom had told me about different people in her life and contacted them through email. For the video we made this year, my sister used Facebook and Instagram and sleuthed through friends of friends of friends to generate a comprehensive list.

By the time I’m eighty, there will probably be a chip in my head that can be remotely accessed to generate a list of people I’ve been a good friend to in the past five years. Maybe it will have colors- Green for those I’ve been in regular contact with, Yellow for intermittent, and Red for not at all.

Since creating my mom’s video I have thought about whether I’m creating enough green. Lately, it feels like my cache or yellow and red is way bigger than the green. I wonder how long (or short) my list will be when I’m 80?

My hope is that when I’m eighty the remote chip will have an option for looking at the past fifty years and averaging contact. It will be able to measure those concentrated contacts with friends from college or that group of friends I hung out with a ton in my twenties. It will be sensitive enough to calculate that one walk a year I take with an acquaintance.

Maybe there will be some kind of algorithm for “good friend” assessment and my list of green will be something I can be proud of. Maybe it will create a list of enough friends to create some sort of substantial project like the ones I’ve created for my mom.

Friendships wax and wane. I’m in close touch with someone for a few years and then we fade away, but the time we spent together doesn’t disappear. The long walks or rich dinner conversations we had don’t evaporate. They simply go into the coffers of memory. And some friends are constant. They never fade or go away. They’re always there.

And then there are new friendships, the ones that blossom in the empty space where an old friendship used to be. Thinking about what friends will show up in thirty years to say “Happy Birthday Laura. I love you!” is a futile exercise and again, not based in reality.

I’ve been stressing out, thinking I should send emails, write letters to resurrect friendships past. In comparing myself to my mother’s amazing showing of friends for her 80th birthday video, I lost sight of what’s real. What is real is that friendships come and go but the memories are always there. The experiences I’ve had with past friends don’t disappear just because the friendship has changed. I don’t know who if anyone will show up to wish me well when I’m eighty. Maybe I won’t even live to be 80 so why future trip.

For now, I’m going to be grateful for the friends I’ve had in the past, the friends I have now, and the friends I’ll make in the future.

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