Sunday, August 8, 2010

This past weekend I spent the better part of two days with a group of people I spent 13 years with what seems like a lifetime ago. It was my 30th (yes, people three-zero) high school reunion. Most of us started kindergarten together under the tutelage of Mrs. Hamilton in a converted convenience store and graduated from CHS 13 years later on a warm day in June, 1980.

I am the first to admit that my school years were NOT the best years of my life. If my high school years had been a movie, I would NOT have been Ferris Buehler or one of the "Heathers". No, I was the geeky, bookish sidekick who spent a lot of time alone writing bad poetry and daydreaming about writing the great Canadian novel. Even now when I am dealing with teenagers and young adults, I promise them high school is NOT real life AND things always get better. Looking back from the crest of middle age, I can honestly say they were neither the best nor the worst years of my life. They were years that shaped and formed the woman I am today. They were the years when I cultivated friendships with women I still am proud to call my 'BFFs'. As the old saying goes: "We'll always be friends -- we know too much about each other."

In my own mind, I have re-written the high school experience I wish I'd had many times over past 3 decades. Anne Lamott wrote "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past." I have reached a place where I see that what I experienced as painful exclusion and torment was only that because I defined it as that. I have chosen to define my past as a wonderful gift that has given me insight into the pain of others so that I can help guide them get through to the other side. The Course in Miracles has taught me that we are all innocent children of God, and that hurtful, pain causing acts come from a place of pain and fear. If spending 20 plus years counseling people in difficult life situations has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that each of us has a story and those who 'hurt' others are themselves deeply hurting. I wish I'd known that when I was fifteen.

I have now made peace with the childhood experience that really 'was'. I gave up all expectations and judgment of those I once viewed with fear and suspicion and trekked back to my hometown for the reunion. Seriously, it wasn't much of a trek, I only live 70 kilometres away. That being said, it is a different world defined more now by the time that has passed since that handful of years that spanned my transition from child to woman.

Over the course of the two days, at least half of our graduating class attended some part of the event. Some had come vast distances, combining visits to family with the old school memory trip. Oddly enough, many of my classmates still live in our hometown - - a few even teach at our old schools. Some never left. Some returned after spending years away attending school, building careers or chasing some ephemeral dream or quest. I know I speak for all my classmates when I say we are thankful to those hometowners who did the leg work to pull off the reunion.

Friday night started with a dinner where we got to sit and visit with each other. Thankfully someone pulled out nametags and a Sharpie. Once I reminded myself that I was not looking for my friends as much as I was looking for versions of their parents, I was able to connect names and faces. We have reached the point, as Joni Mitchell sings where "we look like our parents did when we were our kids age." After a Power Point presentation of old and new photos compiled by one of our more computer savvy classmates, we gathered on the stage for a group photo.

Saturday morning meant sitting on hay bales on a flatbed and being pulled through the streets of town as part of the rodeo parade. This is one tradition that has carried on through three decades of reunions. As with our last reunion, those pesky Class of 1990 kids started a water fight (or at least that's the 'official' story). Between ducking water balloons and tossing candy at the kids along the parade route we all had a lot of laughs. A few of our classmates had to be 'encouraged' to join us on the float (thanks, Rocky, for the football tackle skills you clearly haven't lost).

The day transitioned into a barbecue at the house of another classmate. Mother Nature gave us beautiful sunny weather for the afternoon. Children who were still young enough to be seen with their parents hung out and played together reminiscent of scenes from 30 plus years ago.

I honestly had been planning to head back home after the picnic and call it a weekend. But instead I did something I never did in high school -- I changed my mind and stayed for the after party at another friend's home. I was not the kid who went to parties and 'hung' out in high school. I felt too socially awkward and afraid to risk some reputation destroying faux pas. Besides I could never get my hair 'right' back then! I was happier to head out to the quiet of a local lake to fish and read. The drama of crushes and boyfriends was a foreign land for me, but I always had an available shoulder for my girlfriends when their hearts got bruised or broken.

I had also chosen to leave the dominate religion of my town when I was in grade 11. This singled me out as well. Even then I knew that my relationship with the Divine was going to be a journey filled with twists and turns. Narrow, predefined pathways did not make sense for me as I had already read enough to know that there were as many pathways to the God as their were seekers. After high school I heard some thought I was a Witch or Satanist. Guys and Gals, for the record, I do not practice Wicca but some of my best friends do AND since I see the devil as a mythical creation of the early Christian church to keep people in line through fear, I doubt I'd worship something that doesn't exist . In short, my 'religion' is kindness . . . as the Dalai Lama has said numerous times. What ever religious structure helps a person live and practice kindness everyday, that is the Truth for them; if the religious structure causes a person fear, pain and stress, well that is my definition of Hell. [That is something my Mom taught me -- she really was the smartest person I've ever known!]

Back to our evening at Ruby's. It was great to see and visit with so many old friends for a while longer. The highlight of the evening was calling one of our classmates who is struggling with the physical realities of cystic fibrosis. Shawn is and will always be part of Us . . . and we send him our love in his journey.

For those of us who have moved away from the home town, the trip back 'home' was an experience. Living so close, I actually get back several times a year. My Mother's grave is in the local cemetery and I visit her to discuss how things are going occasionally. My own niece is now the principal of the alternative school back home (yes, I'm proud of her beyond words). My eldest sister and her husband live in the house I grew up in. My grandmother's house has been sold 'out of the family' but I still drive past and can almost smell the cinnamon buns and sweet peas. I'm sure many of my classmates had similar feelings this weekend -- the Town is 'home' and yet 'not home' at the same time.

The changes in town were a frequent topic of discussion.

Kens' Confectionery, which had been a fixture from all of our earliest memories, is no longer. We all remember the bread pans filled with a variety of penny candies -- mojos, chicken bones, licorice babies, chocolate coins. The ice cream freezer (my favourite was lime sherbet). The Elephant Pink popcorn. These were the flavours of my childhood.

Our old junior high -- the EJ Woods School has been bulldozed into a vacant lot across from the high school and the current junior high has relocated to the other side of town. The high school itself has undergone major renovations and the hill we once slid down in old cardboard boxes has been truncated with the building that houses the alternative school program.

Places that were the staple of our 'hangouts' are long gone . . . restaurants that served pizza and Chinese food are long closed or morphed into other businesses. The Social Centre -- where we attended those awkward dances with flashing disco lights now houses the municipal administration offices. The 'Mall' which originally housed the A & W Restaurant is a ghost mall - with only the IGA grocery store remaining.

One hangout that was central to my childhood was the K bar B Drive-in. It was located through the block from my grandmother's house facing the highway heading to Waterton Lakes National Park. I used to walk through my grandma's lot, climb through a barbed wire fence, slip down the path next to an old grain holding elevator to reach the K bar B and the wonder of soft serve ice cream double dipped in chocolate. From the time I was in grade 1, my friends and I would trek to K bar B for summer treats. I drove by this weekend and the old drive in has been revived, renamed and continues on for another generation.

In many ways we (the class of 1980) are a snapshot of our generation -- marriages, divorces, remarriages; university degrees and college diplomas; children and (oh my) grandchildren; successes and failures -- all the bumps and bruises that mean a life lived. Many of us have buried our parents. A few have buried spouses and children -- wounds that touch us all through the web that is a shared childhood. More than a few of us have battled serious, life threatening illness, coming out the other end changed.

The reality of life and loss mean that we've lost a few classmates to the Grim Reaper. Perhaps we all felt the death of Colleen the hardest, because she was the first -- we were only one year past graduation when a car accident ended the life of a genuinely gentle and sweet soul. Her life ended before it started. Another car accident, almost 10 years later, took Darcy, one of our class's shining stars who was almost finished medical school. Illnesses have crept in grabbed members of our class while we were not looking. ALS stole Lydia when we had barely started living our adult lives. Her face smiles with curiosity and joy from the group picture of our kindergarten class my mom took one day back in 1967. Undoubtedly the next few years will reduce our numbers even more, and each loss will be like losing a uniquely coloured crayon from our box of crayolas.

The reality of our own mortality has humbled and mellowed us in a way that nothing else has. As far as I observed, we all got along and spoke kindly to each other over our short time together. We shared laughs and compared experiences raising children and living life. There were no jocks and stoners; no beauty queens and plain janes; we just WERE.

Each of us is on a journey. . . and walking together, no matter how briefly, helps remind us that, at the end of the day LOVE is all that will matter. So dear friends, I hold only LOVE for each of you, for LOVE is what we are. In the words of Sarah McLachlan:

It will be easy to look in or out
upstream or down without a thought
and if I shed a tear I won't cage it
I won't fear love
and if I feel a rage I won't deny it
I won't fear love
Peace in the struggle
to find peace
comfort on the way
to comfort
and if I shed a tear I won't cage it
I won't fear love
and if I feel a rage I won't deny it
I won't fear love
I won't fear love
I won't fear love...


  1. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. That's how I had hoped it would be, and I'm even more sorry now that I had to miss it (we left on our family vacation that weekend). Thank you for the moment of reflection.


  2. What a beautiful and touching memoir you wrote! It raised echoes of some of the things I felt before during and after attending my 20th high school reunion in June of 2012 (my period and comma keys are broken- sorry!)
    I gave myself a piercing anxiety headache sitting paralyzed in my car frozen in the driver's seat by feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection I had thought were resolved long ago My dear friend whom I met on the school bus the first week of Freshman year soon showed up and in we walked together
    It was fine! It was truly fun People I did not think even knew I existed in high school welcomed me warmly We all truly enjoyed seeing one another and trading life stories I am so glad I went