I’m a 78-year-old woman who, as I reflect, is a really lucky lady. And it’s not because my life has been perfect, but rather because I’ve always had a circle of women to help me through all of life’s trials and tribulations, as well as its joys and successes.

These friendships started back when I was 5 years old. Childhood was such an innocent time back in the 1950s. We were lucky: No social media, no interactive video games, no 24-hour television channels. We played with friends for our entertainment — climbing trees, cutting out paper dolls, roller skating, playing Monopoly. Some of these girlfriends are still in my circle 70 years later.

Back then, we talked and dreamed and helped each other become teenagers. I remember those turbulent teenage years when friends truly helped me survive. My circle had enlarged, and what we did changed. We played with one another’s’ hair, had slumber parties and danced to our 45s. We never stopped talking about boys. We shared disappointments and applauded each other’s successes. These friends were just a phone call away, and since our parents didn’t understand us, we called friends who did.

Suddenly, we were young women, driving cars and going out. We had dreams to share with our circle — finding a mate, landing a job, becoming independent and, for many, getting married. My bridal party consisted of those women. They were the friends who helped me grow up, survive bad times and rejoice when things went well.

Motherhood and children — How did I manage working, keeping a home and raising a family? Many an afternoon, my circle would meet on my deck for drinks and a chance to unload and share the “joys” of parenthood. Sleepless nights were replaced by a few years of calmness, which was then replaced by sleepless nights as our children became teenagers. My friends and I tried to figure out what happened to our beautiful babies who adored us and now didn’t want to be near us.

Soon, though, with the nests emptied and careers completed, came another great time to form a circle of women. I started going to Curves and book clubs, playing bridge and tennis, taking daily walks and traveling and singing in a women’s chorus. These were the new women who listened and advised, laughed and rejoiced and then were also there for me when I became a widow.

I no longer had a husband to rely on and fill my life. But suddenly there were invitations to girls’ dinners with my latest new friends. I routinely visit my oldest friends, or call or text. I play bridge online with friends from those teenage years as well as a newfound bridge mentor. I enjoy my lunches with the women I worked with as well as my fellow motherhood survivors. And with all of them we commiserate about life’s travails and about getting old.

I recently read Lisa See’s novel “Lady Tan’s Circle of Women.” It tells the story of a woman in China in 1469 and how her female friends enhanced her life. As I read it, I thought to myself: This is exactly what I have been lucky enough to have had all my life. Circles of women who share my happiness, cry with me when I’m sad and support me when I need a lift.

I guess I am lucky that a circle has no end, because — whether it’s the 15th or the 21st century — life is not an easy journey. But because of my unending circles of women, it has certainly been a lot less overwhelming and a lot more fun.

Madeline Nelson


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