EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY: The stars in my constellation

Virginia Buckingham
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A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.” 

One of the best parts of summer is reading. Even if you’re a year-round devourer of books, there’s still something about sitting with no sense of time, in the shade of a tree or with your toes in the sand, and letting a story carry you away.

I’m one of the millions who look forward to Elin Hilderbrand’s annual offering of an escape, usually to Nantucket. The author of 29 books, Hilderbrand has announced that it is to be her penultimate, the last — “Swan Song” — to be released in 2024.


Hilderbrand said she was running out of material to mine from an island that is just four miles wide and 13 miles long. You can only conjure up so much drama there, she noted, and she wants each book to be as good if not better than the last. In an interview on CBS, she was asked if that meant she was ready to move elsewhere for fresh material. She didn’t rule it out.

@ElinHilderbrand, may I introduce you to another small, beautiful place on the water? It’s not an island, though sometimes it feels like one. And drama? I’m guessing there’s at least another 29 books worth in Marblehead!

I’m about halfway through her latest, “The Five-Star Weekend.” Its premise is that a recently widowed woman seeks to cheer herself up by inviting one close friend from four phases of her life, none of whom really know each other, to spend the weekend. Four friends, plus the main character, equals five stars.
In interviews, the author has noted the story is an ode to women’s friendships and also a recognition of how much we, and therefore the friends we choose, change over time. “Our circumstances change, we grow,” she said.

The interview and the book got me thinking not only about who I would invite if I were to host a similar weekend (not as a widow, David, don’t worry!) but also whether the premise feels true.

Have I fundamentally changed from the person I was in high school, in college, young adulthood, to who I am in midlife? And if so, did I choose different kinds of friends in each phase? If I got them together, would the only thing they’d have in common be their relationship with me?

No, I actually don’t think so. In the most important place — inside —   I’m the same person I always was. And when I think about the friends I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life in the past, I feel I’d be drawn to them again and them to me, if I didn’t know them before and circumstances brought us together now. And they would really like each other. Circumstances have changed in my life, like all of ours, for sure. As the saying goes, “Sh-t happens.”

For me, I left high school in my small town in rural Connecticut at 17; attended college in Boston; made a career; got married to a North Shore guy who stipulated we couldn’t live on the dreaded South Shore; bought a home; endured a painful trauma; lost parents; raised two kids. This summation is not making light of any of those things —  each represents an earthquake-magnitude shift.

And in each of those phases I had the gift of the closest friendships. High school friends who dreamed with me about our futures on long destination-less drives. College friends who sat with me on a dorm room floor over bad wine, mending each other’s broken hearts and laughing until we couldn’t speak. Moms of my kids’ friends who shared coffee, advice and gripes. Work friends who became life friends. Neighbors who are like sisters, sharing our empty-nest loneliness and luxury. Bonding over planning weddings and imagining grandchildren with friends who attended our wedding. New ventures bringing new wonderful friends into my orbit.

There was a time when I’d agree with Elin that the whole of these circumstances changed me and I was attracted to friends unique to each phase. Certainly, I learned from the experiences and the friends, but in an unexpected way that learning seemed to simultaneously carry me forward while returning me to myself.

It’s hard to explain this return so I’ll turn to the best explainer of hard things — philosophy. “This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor… Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Thank you, Rumi.  And if all of the stars, the friends, in my constellation past and present got together in this guest house, my, oh, my what a time we would have.

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