There and back again… and again… and again…

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A few weeks ago, the family and I went to visit my relatives in Ohio. We didn’t have any big plans to see or do anything. After all, it’s not New York. It was just to spend some family time. We only see each other every few years.

One thing I did set up for myself was a small get-together of people I had gone to high school with. It would be a brunch somewhere. Dayton had changed since I left there in 1990. We met at The Cheesecake Factory, about eight of us.

It was what it was, a group of friends sharing brunch and histories since graduation. I felt myself getting choked up about halfway through the brunch. We all had similar experiences, accomplishments and setbacks. We talked about friends and our families. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so sensitive to see them all again. I was closer with some than others, but on this day, we were (and are) friends.

I don’t get a lot of time in my normal life to actually sit down with people and share. It seems like I’m always busy running or working or looking after the little buggers. I don’t regret my time with my immediate family. I suppose a lot of people are in the same “family” boat, more things to do than time to do it in.

But, on that day, I was with my peers, my friends from a long, long time ago. 40 years out of high school is a long time.

As usual, time goes quickly when having fun. It was an interesting meeting. The girls sat on one side of the tables and the boys on the other. The more things change, I suppose, the more they stay the same.

It was time to say goodbyes and I thought I heard that song from Dan Fogelburg, Old Lang Syne, “Met my old lover in the grocery store”, at least I think that was the name of it. What does one say to friends from so long ago that now I see again and how do I tell them I’ve missed them, how I thought about them all from time to time, how life is curious with its twists and turns and “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”.   How do I tell them I’ve survived in spite of myself? How do I tell them that somehow I miss high school? I miss the feeling, the freedom, the friendships. Then, how do I say goodbye again?

And after the final goodbyes, I broke down and cried. I don’t know why.   At almost 60 years old, somehow my rock solid defenses melted in the face of nostalgia and sentimentality. I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt like I was cleansing my soul. That somehow, I made it through 40 years and I’m still standing. I have plenty of battle scars and emotional baggage. But, somehow, I made it, just like they all made it, too. Some of them had grandchildren. Some had retired. But, somehow, everybody seemed happy and at peace with where they were. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t. Maybe I was and maybe I’m not.

I quickly gathered my composure and the tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. I felt a mix of happiness, relief and peace.

I rejoined the family in their frolicking in the sun and went on about our vacation.

About a week ago, I met a priest in the store. As usual, I struck up a conversation with him as I do with everybody. I don’t even remember everything we talked about. I suppose that’s a pleasure of being almost 60 is that I don’t remember everything like I used to. But, there is one thing he said, he was originally from Italy where he started his priesthood. But, he had moved to the US about 40 years ago to do his ministry here. Anyway, he said that just a few weeks prior, he had gone back to Italy and visited his home and neighborhood which he had not seen in 40 years. He said it was a very emotional time for him seeing everything and everybody again. It brought back a lot of memories he had previously forgotten.

Was it so coincidental that he returned to his home after 40 years like I had just done? Was it coincidental that he had experienced such profound emotions on his return which sounded a lot like my emotional cleansing?

It all made sense to me. It didn’t make sense. But, I felt that everything was ok and that my self and my emotions are not abnormal. I can’t speak for my high school classmates who were never really normal anyway, but I think they felt what I felt. Maybe, on our journeys people enter and leave and come and go and everything works out the way it is supposed to and maybe everything we experience is another chance to grow. And maybe, we should just celebrate our time together and hope that someday we can have more time together. And laughter and tears are both the price and rewards of the journey.

“We drank a toast to innocence, We drank a toast to now… and for just a moment I was back in school…. and the snow turned into rain.” Lyrics by Dan Fogelburg

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