This past Saturday, I got to do something I really love to do. I attended my high school reunion. It has been 40 years since graduation.
I love going because it's fascinating to chat with people I knew when we were all adult wannabes, some of us convinced that having graduated high school, we would continue to roll, as we did through the 12 years of school, with their predictable rhythm and cadence of life, regardless of which direction we chose.
It wasn't that simple for most of us. Whether we went to college, enlisted in the armed forces or went straight to work, we found that much of our time was now in our own hands. How we made use of this time was not up to others, but to us. Some did better than others with the newfound freedom, but it was surprisingly challenging to all of us.
In the intervening 487 months, our lives have diverged, geographically, vocationally, spiritually, politically and economically. Those of us who come to reunions, by and large, have 'done well.' That doesn't mean we're rich or famous, but we all define 'doing well' in our own unique way, based on our own unique situation.
As time has passed, we have grown more comfortable with 'who we are' and our own unique definition of 'doing well.' We don't compare ourselves as we once did, when our perceived comparability was so high; Born in 1960 or 1961; Lived in the same town; went to the same high school; in the same historical context; attended the same few churches; had the same opportunities; saddled with the same limitations, too.
Now we know better, that some of us had different talents and degrees of talent. These differences did a clean, efficient job of separating us and putting us on our respective tracks. We also realize that the only things we truly share is a place and a time and the relationships forged in our collective, budding adulthood. The class of 1979.
Interestingly, there are classmates, who have been very successful by most conventional definitions, who choose never to come to reunions. For some, high school was a profoundly unhappy time, either because of school itself, the raging hormones and teenage angst, or because of what was happening in their lives at home or somewhere else, and high school reminds them of those hard times. They have taken a very literal interpretation of our class song, and they have Turn(ed) the Page. Or, in some cases more accurately, torn it out.
I loved my time in high school and I love the people with whom I went through it. I love laughing about things we laughed about back then. I love talking to people who I always thought were so cool, who I now learn were just as insecure as I was.
In the 1,947 weeks since graduation, we have, collectively, mellowed. At our earlier reunions, starting with the 5th, there was always some lingering tension among rivals, both men and women, whether jealousy, betrayal, simple misunderstandings or just the lingering hurt that sometimes happens between teenagers.
As time passed, the edges of these issues seemed to become more rounded, less able to draw blood, even if they haven't completely disappeared. To my knowledge, no punches were thrown on Saturday night. Maybe some knowing eye rolls, but no explicit physical hostilities.
I got some positive reinforcement to the writing I do here and elsewhere. I appreciate this very much. Ruffling feathers just for the fights and divisions is a trend I would like to end. Encouragement, positivism and Christ-like love is a trend that I hope to ignite.
So in that vein, I want to thank my classmates, who have now been apart for some 14,600 days, when we sprang from the safety of the Weymouth Public Schools, ready to reshape the world.
I thank them for:
their courage, in confronting the challenges in their lives.
the values and wisdom they give to their children and to the rest of us.
their friendship, whether we see each other every day, or only wait for the next reunion, or even if we never see each other.
their kindness. It's always a warm and pleasant feeling to be remembered well. Over time, kindness dims our less favorable aspects, leaving only an optimized view of yourself in the eyes of another. It's not flattery, because they mean it. And it feels great.
the memories. Of a time when we were young and strong and brave and untested. Of a time when everything seemed possible. Of what we now think of as 'a simpler time.' (It didn't seem simple then.) Being able to read the smirk on a good friend's face after 40 years, and know with confidence what he is thinking and telling him so, is a priceless experience. As is the laughter that inevitably follows.
Having grown into my Christian faith, I now realize that none of these relationships - from the close friend with whom you shared so much, to a person to whom you never spoke when you were in school - none of these are coincidence.
I believe, strongly, that the Lord blessed us all with each other.
I believe that He gave us friends who've known us most of our lives.
I believe that, while we identify our common experience through high school, that God had greater more long-term plans for us, as He demonstrates by having some of us meeting or talking for the first time, at our 40th reunion.
I believe that He gave us these friendships when we were at the starting line of our lives, fresh and ready and eager to start the race.
I believe that He wants us to finish the race, while helping our classmates, colleagues and others to finish as well. It's not finishing first that matters. It's that everyone finishes, 'with a little help from (their) friends.'
And I believe that He gives us these opportunities, including but not only reunion parties, to help us, encourage and strengthen us for whatever comes next.
Statistically, a class with over 500 people in it would have some members not live to see their 40th anniversary of graduation. Our class has lost, I would guess, about 2 dozen members, some of whom were lost very young, including one I can think of who never went to high school, having died the summer prior to when we started.
I didn't know all of the people on the 'In Memoriam' list, but those I knew are frozen in time, still young, strong and eager to start the race, not realizing that their race was a sprint, and not a marathon. Their finish line was way too close.
We don't get advanced warning of the exact location of our finish line, but the older we get, the more we know we're approaching it, however reluctantly.
What this means to me is that, if God has not taken me home yet, He must have more for me to do. My job is to figure out what He wants me to accomplish and then go do it.
You might think you haven't accomplished much in your 4 decades since high school. (Or in your nearly 6 decades on earth.) I disagree, especially if you have survived. You have touched many lives, you have changed trajectories for yourself and others. And while you may have fallen short in some situations, your track record is undoubtedly better than you give yourself credit for.
But let's say, for the sake of argument, that you're right. That your last 40 years were of no consequence to anyone, even you. That your imprint on the world is just a footprint on the beach at the ocean's edge. That you have moved no one in any direction whatsoever. (This is not possible, but bear with the hypothetical a second).
So, now you're in your late 50's, you're 2/3 of the way through your journey on earth and you've done nothing of any import whatsoever. What do you do?
Your options are:
Shrug shoulders and await death
Become angry and bitter with disappointment
Attack the remainder of your life, whatever it turns out to be, with a fervor and an enthusiasm that bubbles up from your 18-year-old self, poised at the starting line. Or your 6-year-old self sitting in your first grade classroom, wondering what was coming next.
Don't laugh at options 1 or 2. If you don't choose #3 - actively - you will default to 1 or 2.
What does it mean, this description of option 3? There are must-dos and corresponding can't-dos.
fret over things you should have done years (or even hours) ago;
hold grudges, especially the ones you use to excuse adverse outcomes;
say that you are too old to make a difference;
compare yourself to your classmates, work colleagues, softball buddies, book club members, celebrities, politicians, notorious criminals or scoundrels. You ain't them.
learn what you can from your mistakes and then forget the mistake while keeping the lesson;
commit to do the next right thing. You may not know what your ultimate destiny is - in fact, you probably don't - but you can act in this moment that the Lord is giving you;
realize you are only human. Do what you can. Don't worry about what you can't do. Someone else will pick that up when it's time.
treat other people with courtesy and kindness. They are dealing with stuff too. Resist the urge to repay rude with rude. Or to burn someone with a snarky reply. Not worth it.
You are you. You have a unique history, replete with success, failure, joy, pain and tons of mundane, boring stuff in between.
At one point in grade school, a popular maxim for us was, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life.' Hokey? Yes. Accurate. Yes. Those days and these days too.
Make today matter. Do one right thing. It doesn't have to be solving world hunger.
Encourage someone who needs it.
Hold the door.
Do an extra chore at home even if it's not 'your turn.'
Ask a cashier how they are doing and listen to their answer.
Tip your server a little more than you normally would.
Let someone go ahead of you in traffic.
Compliment your spouse.
Spend time with your children
Babysit your grandchildren
Or any of several billion other small acts that contribute a tiny positive to a world that is ever more negative.
What you will find, if you commit to doing the next right thing, is that you will generate positive outcomes of varying sizes and shapes. Their collective ripple will eventually come back to you, likely magnified. That is not why you do it, but it is a natural outcome of a habit-based tendency to do 'right' in as many situations as you can.
This way, if your finish line suddenly appears, you will not only finish the race, but you will finish strong and receive a roar of applause from your loved ones, including our 2 dozen classmates who wait for us in heaven!
God bless you, Weymouth North High School, Class of 1979.