How, you might ask, could a 50th anniversary high school reunion relate to spiritual matters? Quite a bit, as I recently discovered.
I was not going to attend my high school reunion. I’d never attended any previously, in part because I don’t like looking back. As it is for most of us, adolescence was not any easy time. Social isolation. The onset of alcohol abuse. Hurtful relationships. Catholic guilt. Themes of which I don’t like to be reminded.
I’ve also talked here and elsewhere, however, of the tyranny of time and the price tags for taking time for granted. There were some guys I hadn’t seen in a very long time that I wanted to see before we all start crossing over. So I went.
I attended an all-male Catholic high school run by Jesuits. They were tough and demanding. They taught me to think. Interestingly, at this reunion our headmaster showed up. At the age of 90, Fr. McIlhenny looked amazingly vibrant. When I first encountered him at the reunion, I had a minor flashback where I hear his voice in my head ominously saying “See me at 3, boy!” I entered high school with a history of behavior problems and so became well acquainted with Fr. Mac as well as the Prefect of Discipline Fr. Lamm. I also realized that, when I first heard that threatening voice early in my freshman year, Fr. Mac was only 36.
As I encountered old friends, many of my spiritual issues were poked. As I spoke with some who were coping with serious health issues, I felt my ongoing argument with God get stirred up, especially since two in particular where always kind-hearted young men who seemed to have avoided the more typical cruelty of peer groups.
I also was reminded of key social issues. Two of my classmates were dead of AIDS. One, a veteran of Viet Nam, told me of a fellow classmate not in attendance who is dealing with health issues related to Agent Orange. One courageous classmate came back to this Catholic school with his male partner.
There wasn’t much dwelling on “glory days”. There was, of course, some talk about health. I was touched, too, by several classmates telling me they’d read some of my books. Some classmates I easily recognized. Others not. I wondered whether others were thinking “Geez, look how old Patterson looks.” I, too, am capable of vanity.
I went back to my hotel room that night and had a good cry. About what? About good men suffering physical and emotional brokenness. About good men suffering all kinds of heartbreak dished out by life. About the likelihood that some of these men I’d never see again. About lost innocence.
I’m glad I went.
So in honor of the Class of 1966 of Scranton Preparatory School, I can think of no better song:
Richard…I really empathize with your experience. Regardless of how it had been for me, if I were you, I would have gone back to my room and had a good cry also—memories, regrets, joys that will never be shared again, broken lives, gratitude for my own healing, sorrow for the broken places in myself that still aren’t healed. The finality of it all. Some of them I’ll never see again. This precious moment in time that cannot be repeated–ever. So much grief. So much gratitude. It’s all there, and the only sane response is weeping.
So very well said, Richard. I attended my 40th but only because it was accompanied by the 2008 Border Legends Jam. I felt much more comfortable playing music with old friends. So many of my old classmates have passed on, some at a young age because of war, and some because of disease and/or age. I’m grateful that I have lived as long as I have, with many friends still by my side. It is hard, however, to deal with the losses, and my own brokenness…but it’s OK, life is good and I cherish every moment! And I thank God for that!
I am wondering if the weeping represents a delayed grief reaction? I have seen this occur in soldiers. They do not grieve at the time because they can’t. They have to keep driving on. Later, when they are safe, they allow themselves to grieve.
Not meaning to trivialize what was certainly a profound experience. It seems that during those young years the sand in the oyster produced a precious pearl. I wish that I had an experience in youth that had produced a pearl. My pearls came only in middle age- much too late.
Tender and Touching….as always, Nancy
Very moving, Rich. Reflecting on loss of youth, of what might have been, of dreams, of good health, of relationships…. Even when we have been gifted with much through the years our hearts hold the love of self and others from long past. Soon we’ll be able to sing “how terribly strange to be seventy!”
I was at a talk some years ago and a friend and I picked up a book that highlighted women being most fulfilled at sixty. I saw a nun I knew from across the table and jokingly asked if that was true. She quietly said it was, then added, but you have to go through hell first to get there! Life: surrender and growth!
Wow, Dr Patterson, what an article. This one really made me think of why I would not even think of going to any type or reunion. My high school days were very painful. I was always told that I wouldn’t amount to much by some of my teachers. The boys and probably girls made fun of my hair. Of course, at my age, most of the teachers are gone. However, God had a special place for me. And He continues to bless me. As I continue to work (your advise) I am gifted with not only a family that God provided me with but the good sense and compassion to continue to listen to the hurts of others. Thank you for being there for me and for writing this beautiful article.