On Old Friends

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: