Still Young and Beautiful

14711048_10209517113076623_2425488735163912169_oI’ve often been told that my blogs about people that I know are my best. In all honesty they are also the easiest to compose. The stories write themselves mostly because people are innately interesting, and the ones who have been part of my life are particularly so.

I grew up in a little neighborhood in southeast Houston. At the time it was almost on the far edge of the city, just barely outside the area that now encompasses Loop 610 which was not constructed until I was a teenager. The enclave was part of the post World War II boom and it centered around churches and schools and family life. In many ways it was a “Leave It To Beaver” kind of environment in which children were generally protected from the troubles of the adult world.

I attended a Catholic school because back then parents were told that it was their duty to provide a religious education for their children. The tuition was minimal, so it wasn’t a particular sacrifice for my parents to pay the monthly fees, particularly when my engineer father was still alive. After his death it became a hardship for my mother, but the nuns who taught at my school hired her to work for them and announced that free tuition was one of the perks of employment. Thus my brothers and I spent our earliest years in classrooms together with other Catholic children.

In the fifties and sixties in seems as though adults didn’t change their addresses nearly as much as they now do. Once we moved into our home on Belmark Street we essentially had the same neighbors until we ourselves became adults and struck out on our own. The same was true at school. With only a few exceptions we grew up with the same set of kids and got to know them quite well. Their parents were friends with ours, so it was as though we all belonged to a huge extended family.

Many of us went on to attend Mt. Carmel High School after the eighth grade. I received a scholarship which made it possible to continue my education in familiar surroundings with friends I had known from the time I was six years old. Sadly there were those who opted for the local public high school which had one of the best reputations in town. I missed them terribly when they were gone, but I made knew acquaintances with kids who came from a variety of Catholic schools in the southeast and east Houston areas.

As is true with most high school students I foolishly believed that the people that I met during my four years would all be lifelong friends. I did not realize that graduation was a turning point at which time we went forth in far too many directions to remain as devoted to one another as we had once been. Over time I slowly lost track of all but a handful of the people that I had known and loved, often wondering where the others were and how they were doing, but too busy to take the time to track them down.

Decades passed and suddenly there was this thing called social media that allowed us to communicate with friends and family without leaving our homes. Little by little I found long gone but never forgotten friends and began to vicariously follow the routines of their lives. Through the extraordinary efforts of individuals like my friend Carol more and more of my former classmates were found and just seeing that they were still alive and well cheered my heart.

It’s difficult to adequately describe what we shared in those long ago years when the foundations of our academic and spiritual educations were being built on very solid ground. Our differences came in the years that followed, but in many ways they were only superficial. What bound us together was a long history of learning the importance of the one commandment that truly matters which is “Love thy neighbor.”

I am neither a republican nor a democrat. Instead I am fiercely independent, but many of my school chums are die hards in their political persuasions. My own philosophies often confound them and they have even been known to chastise me for what they believe to be unwise thinking. This sometimes angers people that I have met later in life, but it only makes me smile. What I know is that even in our differences there is a commonality of truly caring about our world and each other that was imbued in our very natures long ago. We were not so propagandized that we became nonthinking clones, but rather we were taught to consider many points of view before choosing our own. The one constant, however, was the knowledge that God is our protector and that we in turn must be protectors of His people.

From what I can tell we’ve done a grand job each in his or her own way. We run the gamut from  Paul who is as progressive as anyone might become to Ted who is a staunch defender of conservative ideas. What guides us is memory of those long ago school days when we learned and played and laughed together. Somehow those times glued us together even as we went out on our own to discover more of the world. We now come together with little thought of our differences because what we share is far stronger.

I feel blessed to have the opportunity of getting to know my old friends once again. There was a time when such reunions would have been unlikely. Now I have the privilege of sharing the ups and downs of their lives. I see the smiling faces of their children and grandchildren. I commiserate with them in times of stress, health problems or deaths. I celebrate their birthdays and marvel at images of their vacations. Mostly though I remember them when they were young and beautiful and full of boundless hopes and dreams. I see that like me they have survived the roller coaster ride and are doing their best to be the kind of people that the adults who guided us hoped we would be.

I am so proud of my classmates, my friends. They have worked hard to be good people, and all of them are. I hope they know how much I admire them, and how happy it makes me to know them. My heart fills with joy whenever I think back to our school days. I laugh at the stories that I recall and wonder if they realize how much they have meant to me.

As we all enter our seventies we can no longer claim to be young, but from my vantage point I see that we are all still quite beautiful and young at heart.

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