Getting ready to visit with classmates that I haven't seen in over 40 years, there is a nervous feeling that looms over my being. Niggling at my psyche are the thoughts of how I will be perceived; as the 17 year old skinny funny girl they knew in high school, who helped paint murals on the long walls of the high school halls, as the girl who enjoyed being in plays and singing in choir, or as what they see on Facebook now, snippets of my life, my family, children, grandchildren, interests and passions? Do they even care or remember much? Do I even care or remember much about each of them?
Before I encounter anyone I think about who will be attending and what I remember about them, "Oh yes, she was the 'cool girl,' the 'popular one,' the 'quiet one,' or even my friend from fourth grade when I moved into town on through high school." They are combinations of all of the above and/or none at all.
Walking into the restaurant I recognize one of the women from her Facebook page; she and another classmate wave, smile and we embrace as old friends do. I thank her for organizing the dinner and tell her how appreciative I am that she put it together just because I was making a cross country trip to walk down memory lane. She smiles and says she is happy to make it happen.
I sheepishly say to one of the men that I had to look him up in the yearbook as I could not place a face with his name. Unfortunately there was not a picture, and he goes on to tell me he left school at 16, got an apprenticeship as a baker and went on to open multiple successful bakeries in the area. Under "education" on his Facebook page is "School of Hard Knocks." We share baked clams and a beer as we wait for the rest of the group to arrive. We clink our glasses and all say 'It's SOOO good to see you."
More people walk in, some recognizing others, and some having to be prompted as to who is who. Always there is the joyful sound of recognition and welcome, hugs and giggles and shrieks of happiness. We find our way to the table, playing musical chairs throughout dinner, so we can each share stories about what we remember about each other, classroom memories, teachers we loved, teachers we didn't love, boyfriends, girlfriends, sororities (yes, my high school had very active sororities) and all that high school was to us. We talk about those who are not at this dinner that we miss, and hope that next time the group can be larger and more laughter and memories will be at the table.
As the evening continues, we share what has been happening these past decades, our joys and our struggles, our lifelong marriages and those marriages that did not last, our healthy children and our children with physical and cognitive challenges, where we've lived and where we want to be. We are united by our vulnerability, and feel comfortable placing our hearts on our sleeves, knowing that we will be nurtured, nourished and strengthened by the kind souls before us. Even if individually we weren't so close in high school, we now share a level of empathy that only time can create. We have such a great time together that some of us continue to chat long into the night after dinner, and make promises to visit near and far, as we are spread across the country now.
If I was fearful before walking into the restaurant, I am now joyful for the great experience of the day. Being vulnerable and brave enough to walk in a door to the unexpected and unknown enabled me to be open and ready to hear others' stories, to be, as Leo Buscalia says, the "listening ear" to those who were struggling or feeling fragile, as well as those who were celebrating and reminiscing. By doing this, each of us can be the vessel into which someone can place their most delicate thoughts, knowing we will be the keepers of this precious commodity of memory and heart. Whether reuniting with high school friends of long ago, old friends or new friends or even family, holding space for others as they share their life's memories, struggles and stories is an intangible gift that is most meaningful to give and to receive..