Sunday in the Park
August 20, 2010
In the past six months a strange thing has happened: People from my past, my long, long ago past, have started reappearing in my life. These are not Facebook friends or people I met again at some kind of reunion. They are just folks who called or wrote in a delicious, random fashion.
It has been instructive. And it has been so unexpected I can’t help but notice the measure of grace in it all.
The first call came last spring from out of state. It was from a woman who left Park City with her corporately employed husband in the late ’80s. We had been close friends and even considered opening a business together. We made each other laugh and we loved each other’s children.
When she moved, I encouraged her to go back to school. It was something I have always wanted to do myself and she had the time and resources and support to do so. She not only went back, she graduated and then got her master’s, then her Ph.D. She is now a professor in women’s studies at a notable university and she has been in a long-term relationship with a woman since her divorce more than a decade ago. Her only child, her daughter, was expecting a baby. And she had been diagnosed with a stage-four cancer.
Her call, almost a decade after losing touch, brought such joy — to hear her voice and know she was about to know the joy of grand-parenting — and then such sadness at her illness. We remembered who we were in that window of time in the ’80s. Who and what we valued. What remained. What no longer mattered. We learned a lot from one another and we got through a lot because of one another. I last heard from her when her grandchild was born. A little girl. Some gifts arrive just in time. Her cancer is holding off.
Two weeks ago I got a message on my phone from someone I last saw in Lake Tahoe 16 years ago. She had just found out then, at age 40, that she was finally going to be a mother. We had been so young and silly together, working and playing in a ski/summer resort that was very foreign to our Bay Area upbringings. I was married and as young a mother as one can be without being a teenage mother. Mary was single and I lived vicariously through her adventures. We worked next door to each other in shops that had such slow days we would put chairs outside and just sun ourselves and talk for hours. You learn a lot about a person with that kind of uninterrupted time. We traveled together. And when we both moved from Tahoe in the late ’70s we drifted apart. I reconnected on a trip through Tahoe. We giggled through the deep-fried zucchini on the deck at the Sunnyside Resort — just as we had done all those years ago. There were a few calls and cards and then we drifted again. When her happy voice on my machine said she was coming to Salt Lake City for a conference, I dropped everything to make time for dinner.
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We laughed and laughed and ordered the exact same meal and shared dessert and were surprised to learn how much had changed in our lives and how little had changed in how we saw the world. She kept saying people don’t change. They just become more of who they always were. I’m not sure I completely agree — I’m a big fan of redemption and reinvention — but I think I understood.
An email sent to the editor about this column from a former resident was the third reconnect. After two decades of being away, the doctor, now chair of the medical department at a prestigious university in the Midwest, has purchased a vacation home here for his growing adult-children family. We caught up on a popular outside deck with beverages and so many laughs. We had illness stories and grown-children stories and elder-care-issue stories. He and his wife have carved out an enviable life. He is grateful for his years away and yet feels the cosmic Velcro that is at the core of Park City. We may write a joint piece one day about the Park City of the late ’70s that created the climate for the Park City of today. I was lucky to be reminded what a thoughtful, grounded man had helped care for my little family when we first landed here.
Three separate friends from decades ago spinning back in my orbit. It was nothing I thought I was seeking but I feel so happy and whole with the reconnection. There is immeasurable value in being reminded of who you were, and if you can have a little help with that, to keep you grounded, you are blessed. So I will acknowledge the grace and be open to it, Sundays in the Park …
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.