The dictionary definition of family is “a group of people related by blood or marriage.” Such a description is far too limiting. We often extend the breadth of our relationships to include special friendships that are as deep and endearing as those we share with our kin. We feel bound to such people by sharing common experiences and traditions. We especially form deep and abiding friendships when we are young. The common history of our youth makes particular people feel like our brothers and sisters. Just as with those who come from our same DNA, the individuals who walk with us day after day for a time may leave, but they are never forgotten. Somehow they live in our hearts even when we do not have them near. Such it is with my family from Mt. Carmel High School.
Fifty years is a very long time, five decades, half a century. When I was a teenager it was difficult to even imagine such a long passage of the calendar but I have indeed walked through those fifty years since my graduation from high school. Before that day of long ago I had spent eight to ten hours five days every week inside a brick and mortar building with the same people. Our journey together lasted four years. We shared the same lessons and traditions. We learned together, laughed together and sometimes even cried together. We cheered for our heroes of the gridiron, baseball diamond, track and basketball court. We slowly discovered the people and the ideas that interested us. We formed circles of friends and lived through all of the adolescent peaks and valleys. We became a family.
In my home away from home I grew from a gangly little girl afraid of her own shadow to a pensive young woman wondering what life had in store for me and my classmates. I wondered about all of those questions that occur to most teens. What would I become? Would I have an exciting career? Would I ever marry? Would I have children? Would I become rich or famous? Would I have a good life? I never thought about death or illness. Those things seemed to be the purview of the old, not something that I would encounter for a very long time.
Life took hold of me and my classmates after we had finished our school days and one year grew into two and then ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty. I thought of the people who had been with me in my formative years now and again. I wondered where they were and how they were. I intended to keep up with them but something always seemed to distract me. The phone would ring. One of my children would need my attention. My job would demand my time. My mother would need me to care for her. The excuses always came and so I did not see most of the people who had been so much a part of my life but I never forgot how much they had meant to me.
A couple of years ago along came a beautiful soul that I had known since I was a little girl, Carol. I had been in the Brownies with her and her twin sister, Cindy. We celebrated First Communion together and went all the way through high school only to lose track for all those many years after graduation day. Carol came to some of us almost fifty years later with an idea. She wanted to have a fabulous reunion for our class. It was to be in honor of her sister who had tragically died from ALS. It would be a way to remember Cindy and our other friends who had already left this earth. It would remind us of our youth and the importance of living our lives to the fullest. It would provide us with a way to embrace each other once again.
Carol worked diligently with a group of people determined to find every last soul who had been in the Class of 1966. Terry, Susan, Mickey, Paul, Shirley, Ruth, Judy, Monica, Linda, Jim, Jeannette, Tad, Tommy, Donald and Chris began meeting over a year ago to plan a celebration to remember. Sadly Chris left the world this summer but his impact and generous spirit kept the group inspired. On Saturday night the fruits of this committee’s labors came to fruition as we all gathered together in a love fest that none of us will ever forget.
There were so many stories to share on Saturday night. Some of them were joyful. Others were heartbreaking. I learned of successes and disappointments, happiness and loss. I found that my classmates are people of uncommon conviction, optimism and courage. They have faced down challenges and accomplished great things. They have led the kind of lives that all of us value. They are happy even as they have endured the ups and downs that are inevitable in a span of fifty years. We have all matured and learned what is truly important. We realized in visiting with one another that the ties that bound us so long ago are a special part of whom we will always be. We are truly family in every sense of the word, brothers and sisters for all time.
In the excitement of reuniting we have made promises that we will not let the time run away from us ever again. I hope that we honor that commitment. We have learned that life is precious and fragile and unpredictable and that we must reach out and grab every opportunity to be with the people who were and always will be so important to us. We have always been intertwined even as we branched out in different directions.
Our reunion was a happy and moving experience for all of us. We laughed and cried tears of joy and remembrance. Our celebration was perfect in every way. The love that we felt for one another was palatable and the spirit of our departed friends was ever present. We heard their laughter in our hearts and knew that they were especially happy that we had once again come together. We will forever be grateful for the opportunity that we had to learn that everyone is mostly okay. I’d like to believe that we will have many more chances to come together again. I know that I intend to do all that I can to keep our renewed friendships alive. They are important enough to merit our time and attention. Carol understood that and showed us how it is done.