It was a miracle. I arrived at Ballydoyle’s Pub after laboring over what to wear in hopes of making a good impression on people (yes, especially those girls I had wanted to date), many of whom I had not seen in 50 years. As I entered the crowded, standing room only, back room of the Pub, my eyes were transformed magically. I thought I would be encountering a bunch of old people, 68 year old people. It was not so. Yes, they looked a little different. That smart aleck, Cousin Sue, held her hand over her name tag and made me guess. I
couldn’t come up with her name. (Later, she admitted that with my beard, she wouldn’t have recognized me had she not seen my name tag.) She is not actually my cousin. Our names are similar enough in spelling that we just made up the story that we were cousins, claiming that her dad, Elmer, and my mother, Elsie, were brother and sister. We were in the same homeroom for most or all of the high school years and had time to concoct the stories.
There were not old people there, just people. They looked good. As we reconnected, our eyes became magic eyes and we were all 18 again. It was a large class, so there were lots of us who had not really known each other 50 years ago, but that really didn’t really matter. We just started talking, asking where we were living now, if we had children, grandchildren, what we were doing or had done before we retired. That we had spent
those formative years in the same hallways and classrooms during the same few years seemed to be enough to provide basis for relationship.
It was good to see those people. I realized that there were lots that I had come to know well enough to count as friends. No, I did not go over to people’s houses after school or on weekends. I did not hang out with other kids outside of school activities, but we were school friends. Many others did have relationships that extended beyond school to neighborhood and weekend relationships. They were especially excited to share stories from childhood. I was pleased to see Jeff there. He and I played together as kids since we lived only a long block apart. We talked about the old neighborhood, the swamp, the cornfield, the vacant lot that provided space for our baseball games.
The next morning, I joined those leading the program at the banquet to do some
rehearsing. MC’s Pam, Denny and Tom practiced the banter they had prepared (Pam wrote most of it – she is a Writer and Editor). Mary and I practiced the Memorial time we would be leading. Mary played the hand bell as I read the names of our Deceased Classmates. It was especially fun to see Pam again, since she was my public girlfriend in Zingaro, the A Cappella Choir show that we wrote and performed our senior year. It helped me to be with those folks in the morning. My penchant for feeling on the outside of groups and communities was defused by spending time with those good people.
The banquet and program that evening went very well. The Memorial seemed fitting. The tolling of the bell was appreciated by many who commented later in the evening. Bob did a touching tribute to those who gave their lives in military service, and all those who served. Each of the formal groups, clubs, teams, music, were recognized and invited to stand. Leaders of those groups shared stories along the way through the program.
Since the program had wisely been woven throughout the meal, filling the spaces provided
between courses by the servers, it was not too long. We had lots of time afterward to mingle. There was enough time to have meaningful conversations. I enjoyed that time so
much that I was still there when the 150 classmates and spouses had dwindled to just a handful of us.
Sunday (the third day of this extended reunion) was the day of the Brunch. Nancy opened her home and her yard to a large number of the class who chose to attend this cool down session in preparation for the time travel awaiting as we prepared to transition back to the present. Nancy reminded me that during Grade School our classes had sometimes come to her parents’ large yard for school picnics. The Brunch provided more relaxed interactive time for continued reconnecting, sharing invitations to visit one another in
The weekend has been a little overwhelming for me. My head is swirling as I try to process all the feelings that have emerged. I really had a good time this weekend. I had not come to many reunions partly because I remembered feeling sort of lonely during the high school years, feeling a little inferior, maybe less important and successful than
others. Certainly, part of the decision not to come to reunions had to do with Mary Ann’s circumstances, the difficulty of travel, her discomfort with public settings. What became clear to me this weekend is that my self-perceptions in high school reflected my lack of confidence more than anything else. I came away this weekend not only feeling as if I am fully a member of the community known as the class of ’61 but allowing the possibility that it was so even then, fifty years ago.
This weekend brought many discoveries about the quality of the people with whom I spent
those years at West High. I am impressed with the strength of character revealed as they described what they have been through these last few decades. There are others who have lost spouses, one as recent as three months. A couple of us talked about the challenges associated with our losses. There are a couple of classmates who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the disease with which my wife Mary Ann was diagnosed. We talked
about that. One classmate appeared to have been battling the consequences of a major stroke, doing so with great dignity and courage. I talked with a classmate whose wife is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. Some talked with me about issues raised in the Memorial portion of the program that I led. We had thoughtful conversations about philosophical and spiritual matters.
These newly acquired Magic Eyes are not magic in that they change what is real into
something wished to be so. It is just the opposite. These Magic Eyes see past illusion, past image, past prejudice, past self-doubt, past the longing for a return to some childhood idyllic time (when we were longing to be grownups), past material wealth and its illusory promises. These Magic Eyes are able to see what is real.
At my 50th high school reunion, I saw 150 real people, Classmates and Spouses. It took getting over thinking about how I was being perceived to actually see the real Someone with whom I was interacting. That was the most fun of all, the most entertaining.
This time in life seems to have an unexpected beauty about it. I still hate that Mary Ann is gone. I miss her so much. Especially in the first months the grief at times has seemed impossible to endure. My life with her and the grief itself seem to be a large part of what brings the beauty now. The loss of a high profile role as Senior Pastor of a large thriving congregation combined with the loss of purpose produced an identity crisis. Forty years of ministry and an identity crisis have combined with forty-four years of marriage to Mary Ann and the pain of grieving to give birth to a calm and peace and wholeness that are difficult to explain.
Now that I have encountered my childhood with the visit to the house where I grew up, now that I have returned to high school and re-experienced those years looking
through Magic Eyes, now that I have finished a 40 year career privileged with having a small part in the lives of so many good people, and now that my heart has been broken at losing Mary Ann with whom I was in love for 48 years, life is starting over. I am not done. There is more of life to be lived. While I don’t know what shape that life will take, I am living with expectation.
This morning, after writing most of this post, I opened a daily devotion by Richard Rohr. I have found them often to be quite thought provoking, this one in particular. I will try to include the link in this post, if I can muster the technological skills to do so.