The Surprising Benefit of Attending Your Reunion
You will wonder if you should go.
To that reunion. Because, soon—this year or next year or the year after if not already—you will be invited to one. Maybe a high school reunion. A college reunion. A family reunion. You will be asked to connect with people you haven’t connected with for a long time.
And you will wonder if you should go.
You will mull the WHY question. WHY go to a reunion? Why, why, why? The negatives might seem to outweigh the positives, at least at first. You will wonder if one-upmanship will rear its ugly head. Or if you will be forced into a box you have worked so hard to break free from over the last few years. Or if you will remember anyone.
If anyone will remember you.
But maybe … you should go. At least show up for a while. Maybe, because benefit will show up. Surprising benefit. Benefit that will be hard to articulate up front, because you won’t know it exists until you are there.
You won’t know what impact you might have.
You won’t know what impact it might have on you.
Unless you go.
This past summer I went to my 30-year high school reunion. I graduated in 1986 from Mt. Boucherie Senior Secondary School in West Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. I guess my high school was fairly typical, a rough place, but a place full of heart.
Back in the 1980s, between classes, you could still light up a cigarette in the alcove behind the west hallway—“the smoke hole,” it was called. You could walk up to Grant’s Market on your lunch break with a friend and buy a bag of Old Dutch potato chips and an Orange Crush for about a buck. We didn’t have a football team, but boys played rugby and girls played lacrosse. Since it was Canada, we had a hockey rink at our school, not a swimming pool. If you were cool, you listened to AC/DC and Van Halen, and if you weren’t quite as cool, you listened to Hall & Oates and A Flock of Seagulls.
Did you see The Breakfast Club? That wasn’t too far off from what my high school was like—the Brain, the Athlete, the Basket Case, the Princess, and the Criminal all worked to coexist.
I admit, on the first evening of the reunion, when I walked through the front door of the wine and cheese party, my heart was pounding with anticipation.
It had been a while.
But there stood Dale with the same old grin. I’d know him anywhere. A kid I’d palled around with since second grade. Once during recess in elementary school, Dale and I and Drew had a detailed discussion about entering the Baja 500 when we were grown up—the off-road race in Mexico full of Jeeps and dune buggies and dirt bikes and glory. We’d all read a book about the race, and our young imaginations soared.
And there was Kevin. We went to summer camp together just after 8th grade. My dad drove us there in his VW camper, and it broke down on the Hope-Princeton highway, and Kevin and I gave it a push start while Dad dropped the clutch. The engine started again with a great hurrah.
And in walked Natalie, just a little late, since she’d driven up from Portland that day. She’d sat ahead of me in 10th grade English and used to turn around and doodle smiley faces on my notebook cover.
And Sheri and Rod and Bob and Ida and Mark and Dan … and we all stood around talking for a while, and then Cori, who’d been instrumental in organizing the reunion, called us all together. Cori’s of Aboriginal ancestry, and she explained that one tradition in her culture is to form a “circle” where you gather and speak whatever’s on your mind.
So we did.
Cori laid out the questions for us: we were each to say our name, where we lived, if we were married or had any kids, one thing we remembered about high school, one thing we’d learned over the past 30 years, and a few other things. It was a long list—one best answered if you’d thought it out beforehand, but then Cori turned to me and said, “Okay, Marcus. You start.”
Gulp. I’m not good at small talk, so I blurted the first thing that came to mind: “If I have to go first, then let’s go deep.” I don’t remember exactly what I said after that, but it revolved about valuing the people from your past. How I sincerely valued this moment, gathering with these people I had known for so long.
After me, one by one, other people shared. The talk went deep about many things. Success in jobs. Failure in jobs. Triumph in relationships. Sorrow in relationships. Our children, who shine so brightly yet give us so many ulcers. The wisdom of years, and the grace of being given what wasn’t deserved.
We held a moment of silence for our classmates no longer alive. We named their names and remembered them in tribute. Yes, there was a drug overdose. At least one suicide. The world can be a brutal, brutal place.
And then we all started talking again. We talked all that evening. We talked the next day at a dinner at a golf course, where more classmates came. We talked the last morning, when just a few of us gathered at a diner for brunch. We talked and talked.
I didn’t see any shallowness from anyone.
Sheri, who’s been through more than one marriage, talked about sometimes feeling like a “failure” in her adult life. That was the bold and vulnerable word she used. Yet she clearly was not a failure. She was courageous and beautifully fierce and had experienced much success as an emergency room nurse, and she told another story about a little baby who’d been rushed into the hospital but who didn’t make it. All the steely doctors broke down and couldn’t face the baby’s mother to tell her the heartbreaking news. So they asked Sheri to tell the mother. And Sheri did. She wept with the mother then, and she wept as she told the story to us.
Dan talked about his daughter, who’d been diagnosed with cancer. The news that leaves you breathless and up at night, wondering, praying, hoping. Friends and family and doctors and amazing oncologists rallied around Dan and his family, and they battled, heart and soul and skin and strength. Today… his daughter is winning. Winning. Winning. Winning.
Mark, who works as a high school principal today, talked about the training he’s received in reconciliation counseling. It used to be that they’d kick a troubled kid out of school. But today, there’s a whole host of amazing things that can be done to teach compassion. To teach understanding. To teach forgiveness.
To teach hope.
On the morning of the final day, we were all sitting around outside the diner, drinking orange juice and coffee and eating pancakes and scrambled eggs and bacon and toast, and the usually sunny Okanagan sky clouded over, and it began to rain.
The diner inside was packed with guests, and we couldn’t wedge our way inside, but we didn’t want to stop talking either. So we stayed outside and crowded around a small table with a large umbrella and remained in the rain and mist and talking and laughter and stories and tears.
Toward the end of our time, Cori called us all together for one last circle. What was our favorite moment from the weekend? What would we want to say to everybody?
I found it hard to get the right words out. I think everybody did. The depth of experience over the years had proved more powerful than could ever be fully described. Rather, the power in the reunion had emerged from our togetherness. We were just happy to still be here. Happy to be alive. Happy to be at peace with each other. Happy that today a new banner flew over us—and I’ll use this word even if it sounds cheesy—
A banner of love.
I think Bob must have sensed that, because at the very end of the brunch, Bob led us all in a closing prayer. Bob, who had first found his faith at our secular high school. Bob led us in bowing our heads and talking to God.
There we sat in the rain: people looking to heaven.
Bob prayed for healing. Because it was clear the years had hurt everyone.
Bob prayed gratitude over us. Thankful to the Creator for the people from our pasts, the people who proved so valuable today. So very valuable.
And Bob prayed a prayer of blessing. A benediction.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May He cause his Spirit to shine on you and be gracious to you.
May He lift up His smile on you.
And give you peace.
We all breathed out a quiet ‘amen.’
That’s how we closed our high school reunion. The class of 1986. With this unforeseen and powerful benefit.
Soon you will be invited to a reunion.
You will wonder if you should go …
Question: What good things have you experienced by attending reunions?