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The Surprising Benefit of Attending Your Reunion

Sep 28, 2016 // By Marcus Brotherton
reunion-2

Make sure to close your eyes in at least one picture. You’ll find yourself in reverie anyway, remembering years past, grateful for the moment of now, hopeful for the years to come.

 

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.

 

And you?

 

Soon you will be invited to a reunion.

 

You will wonder if you should go …

 

Go.

 

 

 

 

Question: What good things have you experienced by attending reunions?

 

 

 

 

 

  • Tuxedo Man

    I can’t say there will be any circle of love for most of my high school classmates, but it did take until the 20 year reunion for everyone to drop the pretenses and finally say, ” okay, I admit it. I was a jerk in high school. How are you doing these days?” and then we all had a very pleasant conversation.
    I will say, however, that as I get older and my parents, aunts, and uncles pass away and I along with my brother, sister, and all of our cousins become the new patriarchs I feel we are closer as a complete family than I can ever remember.
    I was recently reunited long enough to have a long conversation with some cousins I haven’t seen in twenty years. Our conversation took off like we had seen each other the day before, and as the laughter subsided my cousin said, ” Wow, it feels just like we are all twelve again!”. The loving bond of family runs deep and they will always be the friends we have known the longest in our lives. Even though as we grow up and go our separate ways they are always in our hearts. Then when we have become the patriarchs ourselves it’s not until we take the time to gather together again that we fully appreciate the friendship we have known for so long.

    • MB

      Such good thoughts, TM, thanks. –M

  • Hello Marcus, great story. I would love to go to a reunion, and see how certain people ended up in life. So far, no reunions for me yet. However, last week, after your story, I wondered about something. Just in a small way. The event ended up in a banner of love. I love that term. It also ended with a prayer. I was wondering if everyone ended up believing in their faith? Or were some of them just being polite? I wondered a bit about it. Then, this weekend I attended a meeting where sons and daughters and grandchildren of soldiers who fought in the Hurtgen Forest would all meet. There were German and American people. We visited both American as well as German cemeteries. During these visits we all held a small ceremony to remember the fallen of each side. One of us started with a prayer. Everyone followed in silence. The emotions of sadness and gratitude went through my body. I liked that the prayer was not a standard text, but dealt with the subject of war, peace, forgiveness and friendship. At the end everyone seemed to be saying the final “Amen”, except for me. I just nodded in agreement. At that moment I thought of your story here. I knew then that it didn’t matter wether everyone believed in the power of the lord. What mattered was that we experienced something beautiful and intimate together with the group, and that alone was more than enough. Each person reflected on the subject in their own way. One person took charge by saying something. The rest all politely joined by bowing their heads and taking of any caps. I placed my flowers at the two graves I have adopted, knelt down, and touched the cross. In the end, we are all connected through something. And right there I thought about that term: a banner of love.

    • Marcus

      Yuri, good questions and thoughts.

      My friend Bob, who prayed at the end of the reunion, would describe himself as a follower of Jesus, but I’m fairly certain that not everybody in the group would describe himself or herself the same way.

      I think there was at least one Buddhist in the group. And one woman would most likely describe herself as an Animist, although I’m not positive about that term. A few people, I don’t know what their faith tradition would be.

      Yes, as you’re saying, for some people, prayer will be communing with God. Yet for other people, prayer would be more an experience of unity and beauty and intimacy and respect for one another, rather than a reflection of actual faith or lack of faith.

      In the experience you describe, and with me knowing a bit about your belief system, I’d say that was an honorable way for you to participate in that experience in Hurtgen Forest.

      • Thank you for the reply Marcus. Interesting. I fully agree with this:
        “An experience of unity and beauty and intimacy and respect for one another”, as that is what I felt and thought as well. I did not mean to put anyone down, it just crossed my mind. As you know, everyone has my full respect in what they do or do not believe. There are so many great words and phrases in this wonderful story and the comments. As always, food for thought. Thank you.

        • MB

          Good stuff, Yuri. No put downs were felt. Thanks always for your thoughtfulness in your comments.

  • TE

    Good stuff.

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.