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Why the Need to Attend Class Reunions?

Published on 23/08/18
by randy

I’ve just spent a weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of high school graduation, 1968.  I have a deep gratitude for the classmates who collaborated to put this event on.  I suspect most of us have a little trepidation about meeting after all these years given the inevitable entropy of our bodies.   We’ve had lots of practice at facing the importance and impermanence of the physical form.  

As a historical refresher, most of our class was thirteen when JFK was shot, Dr. King was shot the spring of our graduating year, and Bobby Kennedy was shot that summer, and the Chicago protests at the Democratic convention took place that summer.  The Beatles and the British music invasion were full swing, Woodstock happened the following summer, Eastern thought was meeting Western thought, and psychotherapists were promoting the benefit of hallucinogens that had the capacity to further ‘pull the rug’ from what we thought we knew.  The controversy of Vietnam was building.  Some of us went there.  Most of us used the student deferment to avoid it.  Two of my childhood playmates died over there the fall of 1969.  I recall that one sent letters back about the atrocities, threatened suicide and generally numbed out with drugs.  The other was a medic killed while collecting the injured.

Our class was pretty homogenous, white Christian.  Our wars of difference tended to be around the varieties of Christianity.  Our minorities were very minority of number, mainly a few hispanics who were able to live here year round.  Our parents weren’t accustomed to racial diversity and almost unintentionally carried an air of superiority over any diversity, even though they had known what it was like to be an ‘outsider’.  For as many reasons as there were classmates, some of us couldn’t wait to leave and explore the world and some stayed home and contributed to the local Albert Lea community.  We all found our different ways of healing from the pain of living throughout our growing up.  I have deep gratitude for the wonderful times we shared as we were just beginning to ‘be cooked’ in this wonderful pot called ‘life’.  At the time I felt excruciating pain and failure, and now I review how high school wounding made me a better person and prepared me for handling future relational failures.  I suspect there are those who refuse to heal from their wounding, holding anger to the conditions they felt hoisted upon them.  Some resorted to intoxicants to dull the pain.  Yet, most of us used the support that came from friends, faith and family to move through these difficult times.

The classmate who put the most into putting on our reunion on spoke to us with an eloquent, touching story of where he found his support and confidence.  He recalled moving to Albert Lea when thirteen, feeling anxious about fitting in, only to be met with kindness by the kids that shared the first row with him.  He listed the names of those kids, holding tears back with each name.  I’m honored to know my wife was one of them.  I told her this story since she didn’t attend the meeting and she didn’t recall the event but felt so good to hear the story.  So much of our life story is to fight those never ending thoughts of ‘not being enough’.  The restless mind of disatisfaction is forever at work saying we need more, should be more, should have done more, etc.  I’ve found the antidote to this is resting in that place of peace for kind actions we’ve done, the effects of which we’ll generally never know.  The effects shown by the kindness of the kids in the front row still lives over a half a century past the event.  I suspect my classmate has told this story to his children and grandchildren so that it has potential to be told another fifty or one-hundred years.

I have a practice called the Five Remembrances that grounds me with a daily review.  Essentially, it says it’s of human nature to age, to experience illness, to shed the body, and to let go all of our personal attachments when we take our last inspiration.  Yet, the results of our actions when in these bodies live on.  It’s why it’s so critically important to be careful with how we treat one another, how we examine potential harm we may cause with our actions, and why we need to let others know how grateful we are for how they supported us, how they gave us strength and confidence to move on into unknown territory.

I feel bad I haven’t specifically told my greatest supporters how central they’ve been to my navigation down new roads.  I recall the teachers who pushed me beyond what I thought possible, the ones who gave me lifelong skills I still employ, the ones who thought I was worth a shot, and the ones who inspired me with their dedication.  Our class honored a great teacher by the name of Paul Goodnature.  His last name captures what I’m talking about.  He knew his material and inspired his students to explore with a never ending curiosity.  He gave a speech that was filled with his gratitude for the students and the collaborative pilgrimage we were all on.  I never had him as a teacher, but I can guarantee, he’ll rest in peace knowing the results of his actions. His compassion and depth of curiosity will live on without entropy.

In conjunction with this reunion, I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s latest book, “Thank You For Being Late”.  He’s a fellow Minnesotan who concludes his book with the beauty of what’s been called ‘Minnesota nice’.  There really is something special about this part of the country and how we face change.  The book deals with the accelerating speed of climate change, globalization and technology and how it seems to be moving at an overwhelming pace.  Our capacity to collaborate, to adapt, and thrive will depend on our capacity to keep an open mind.  He writes: 

“Who cares where you are on the right-left political spectrum today?  What matters is where you are on the open-closed, love-to-learn, don’t love-to-learn, spectrums.”  p. 260

Given the tremendous propaganda forces in our culture today that try to eliminate curiosity and the open mind through opinion media, special interest lobby groups and pay to play politics, I’m so grateful for those teachers and friends who’ve given me the confidence to explore new territory or to see old territory new.  

What do you say to classmates after fifty years of being cooked?  It was a turbulent experience as we’re flooded with memories of the past.  I’m sure we all had our share of blundering comments as we moved through such intensity of experience unsure of what to say.  However, the real gift of class reunions for me has come in the insights after.  After fifty years you have to learn to let negative bygones be bygones. The heart heals with gratitude for the gifts given and a strong conviction to hold humor at the missteps we’ve made along the way.

Yes, entropy happens.  It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  It’s a law of nature that energy ultimately dissipates.  Yet, the results of our emotions, thoughts and consequent actions live long beyond our time in these bodies.  At a fifty year class reunion we’re all now much more cooked than our parents were when we were in high school.  Some of us are great grandparents.  Some of us are trying to get through the day with deep emotional or physical pain.  I suspect there were some facing diagnosis of a terminal disease.  At the end of the day, I can only hope I’ll always hold gratitude for the many who’ve given me support on the way, joy for the unknown moments of kindness I’ve shown throughout the journey, and most importantly, forgiveness from those whom I’ve intentionally or unintentionally harmed.  We seldom will know the results of the positive or negative seeds we’ve sown through this journey.  Yet, when an old acquaintance recalls a moment of our kindness and how it fed their spirit, that’s what makes peace in the heart by feeding our spirit.  In essence, it’s the Golden Rule applied.

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