What is it about class reunions that take us down a nervous, funny, sentimental and retrospective pathway?
I recently went to my 40th class reunion. I graduated from Helena High School in 1973. We had about 580 plus classmates—one of the largest for our school before the school district added another high school.
David and I both graduated from the same school and the same year. There are others like us, but typically, there are couples that leave a spouse home (who likes to spend the evening being an outsider to stories and relationships that you were never a participant?) Or those who drag their “foreign” wife or husband who have to pretend that they are having a good time hearing about an historically irrelevant event that has everyone choking in laughter or tearing up in sappy sentiments.
Now for David and me, we ran in different crowds. He, a farm boy with small town “East Helena” roots, me, a “city girl” whom David often frames as coming from “IN CROWD”.
No matter—we cross over one another’s friendships with mutual ease. Having been married 38 years has meant that we have shared most of one another’s history and know one another’s childhood and adolescent events. Not many unshared secrets or mysteries between us. We have fun poking one another about past relationships and enjoy complete security in our marriage.
David and me at the Saturday night buffet
But, having said all that, I still have to admit that for me, the days running up to the first event were variously afflicted with anxiety and excitement. We make ourselves commit to go, then begin the preparation for the initial entrance for the first slate of fun.
So, why the anxiety?
Who doesn’t wonder about whether they will recognize their classmates? (Thank God for nametags) Or, will they notice that I weigh 10 pounds more than I did on that last day of your senior year? Or how will I face my ex-boyfriends? Or will my senior English class members recognize me, will they make conversation with me even though we were not friends in 12th grade? Will they notice my wrinkles and varicose veins and the “cheesecake” appeal that has turned into “cottage cheese”? Which glasses will I wear, the ones that see the distance across the room, or the reading glasses that allow me to read the name tags on an unrecognized person’s chest?
I do weigh more—I’m okay with that. Thankfully, a health scare involving the “C” word put me through a week of trepidation that burned off about 4 lbs. Read my post about my Brush with the Pink Path here. Not a fun way to lose that extra fat, but hey, if there is a silver lining to a $3,000 biopsy, then I’ll take it. Thankfully, the worst part about the biopsy is having to pay for it. Maybe I will take off the other 10 lbs. worrying about how to pay it off.
But I must admit: I found myself upset about a broken fingernail and fact that my tan had faded (like I could be Jillian Michaels because I lost 4 lbs and had my nails done with a pearlescent coral!) And then the adult acne that had been absent for years reappears the day before our debut on Friday night. Good grief. Stupid obsessive vanity ruled my emotions, only to be outdone by my fear of rejection and insecurity about making conversation with people unseen for 10 years.
Finally, I made peace with myself after an hour of two of foolish debate. What difference does it make? I am okay with who I am and how I look. Not to my own credit—I know it’s my good genes and mostly clean living. I have all my original parts and pieces. I have great health, still have never met a stranger, and really want to reconnect with past school mates. I want to know what and where people have been and experienced. I want to hear about where life has taken these class mates that I spent three years with during those tempestuous and formative years that we all call high school.
So why go? Me? I want to reconnect. And the truth is: I hate surface chatter. I don’t want to just go through the motions and keep it surface. I want to know what is below the “hello, you look great or, how many kids do you have? and where do you live now?” questions.
Unfortunately, class reunions can be full of pretense, disguise, or omissions of the dark details of hurt, illnesses and financial failure. It’s not that I want to dig up dirt, or find out how much they paid the IRS last year. Not at all. I DO want to know about kids, grandkids, jobs, siblings, parents. Say the word “grandkids” and see the same unashamed smiles wash across our faces.
So it is not the dark detail that I want–but I hate small talk. I want substance, what matters-to-you and what-has-happened to you. Discussion about spiritual condition of our lives.
And so I must tell you that I learned one truth long ago about how people relate to David and me. They eagerly open up about their health issues, scares, and diagnoses. I listen often about their trials of treatment, frightening prognosis and good or bad outcomes. We have faced difficult symptoms, some treatable, some not. We were even a part of a successful drug study and now are spokespersons for a drug to treat one of the symptoms of MS called Pseudobulbar Affect. More here— you may know someone who could be helped!
I theorize that it is because our physical trials are readily apparent. Who can ignore the wheelchair? No one can pretend that nothing has happened to our lives. The chair is a tangible reminder that catastrophe has visited our lives. (read more here) But the wonderful part of what sounds like a complaint is this: It becomes a conduit to whiz past the surface stuff and get to what people have lived through. So it becomes a valued accessory for my strategy to get below the surface. It makes conversation meaningful and creates bonds. I get to:
- hear why one class mate is so slim—not because she went to Weightwatchers (like I did) or because she popped pills to stop her hunger (like a friend of mine did)—it is because she lost her husband to an unknown illness and she faced a life choice: alcohol or exercise. And she chose exercise.
- Or how Karen and Frank nearly lost a son to suicide, and instead of hiding the pain from the world, took on a vision to help others in a tangible way—Out of the Darkness Walk and internet website to help others facing life and death emotional or physical pain.
- Or how a casual friend was diagnosed with MS and seems normal to all those around her, but undoubtedly knows the fear and uncertainty that the doctor’s words cannot define nor the drugs that they prescribe can limit or eliminate.
- And then the swimming team friend who was wrongly diagnosed with MS and then persisted until she got the correct name for her symptoms.
- Or the woman who read my blog about my breast biopsy and private messaged me on Facebook to say her experience came back with different results.
- Or the guy who told David about losing a large part of his lower colon to cancer…
- Or the class standout whose cancer diagnosis may mean he will NOT see the next reunion.
- And then there is the alcohol. Every reunion seems to have the alcohol component that helps many to relax the fear of rejection or smooth the nervous conversations. The “social lubricant” if you must. Don’t get me wrong—I am not a teetotaler. But sadly, one cannot ignore the visible signs of those whose faces reveal years of addiction. Though we think it to be self – inflicted, the sadness and fallout are still real and pervasive to them– and to those who love them also.
I would share names—I suspect most would not mind, but it is not my call to make. Unlike us, their trial is not readily advertised by an orange wheelchair. Their story is made public only because they choose to tell it, or because someone like Arlene Diehl is probing to find out what life have brought their way.
None of us live in a rose garden, and no one, not even Jesus Christ promises that the garden with roses will be available to even the most devoted and diligent human being. There are days when I ask the why questions, and go to my bed or pillow with tears of searching for peace in order to face the sorrow and sickness that I see. It could be a life shattering piece of news that drives me there, or simply the worries that being a mom present because your children trust in you enough to share their fears, disappointments and questions. Being a “below the surface” person makes you vulnerable to hear the joys and sadness that this side of heaven present to us. But it gives you the opportunity to enlighten others that there is a peace that passes all understanding–The peace that I found through Jesus Christ.
So if the last sentence was jarring, or made you think me “religious”, then file this blog post under irrelevant or maybe, offensive to you. If you aren’t getting what I’m saying, file this for future need. Life may throw you a curve and you may find the need to investigate.
But the truth is that making Jesus Lord of my life has made my life liveable. My husband fights the disease that my father fought and lost– the fight that Multiple Sclerosis won, year by year, day by day, until the summer of my graduation from high school, August 20th, 1973. Many, if not most of my classmates never knew, for I was the surface person that found it painful to share my pain. I did not look for someone to share it with. Only a few knew—mostly my friends who had visited my home and saw his bedridden state. For my intelligent, moral and loving dad died at 45 from a disease that, 40 years later, still has no cure.
My father, before Multiple Sclerosis began
It is because of that sad event that I started my journey to follow Jesus Christ.
So I… we… press on. David, who never feels sorry for himself; me, who am thankful that my self-pity is kept at bay by a relationship with a loving God who has sustained me through David’s many scary health events.
So for sure, we look forward to the 50th reunion. And we will likely lose more of those who walked the halls of HHS in 1973. Many of the same conversations will repeat, and surely a new question will arrive:
How many great-grandkids do you have?
But a reality of life is, none of us know who will have passed into eternity between now and then. But as for me, my intention is live a life and leave a mark that cannot be erased. That is why I go below the surface to hear the hearts of those who live this side of heaven, and just what they plan to do before mortality arrives at the doorstep of life.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NLT)
I hope you will consider doing the same. Your eternity hangs in the balance.
And just so you know, this side of heaven won’t be so bad if you start today.
http://www.harvest.org/knowgod/ is a good place to start.
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