Last weekend was my 40th high school reunion (as I mentioned in my last post). Beve's, too. 40th!!! How did we grow to be so old?
First, some random observations:
All those boys who looked so different from each other when we were in high school, with their long hair of multi-hues, and varying heights? Well, a whole passel of them seem to be the exact same size these days, approximately 6' tall. And none of them have hair. It was extremely disconcerting. I couldn't keep them straight without looking at their name tags. And sadly, none of them wore name tags after our first get-together.
The women, on the other hand, all looked great, though not necessarily as they did in high school. There was a whole lot of lighter hair this year. Not much gray hair. I didn't recognize them without name tags either.
But they sure recognized me. It was ridiculous. Apparently my face hasn't changed much. AT ALL. "You look exactly the same!" I heard over and over, while I was peering at chests right and left. It was kind of embarrassing. And I'd say, "I'm married to Beve...." and before I could say our last name, the person would say, "You think I don't know that. Of course I know that." All these years (we've only been to one other reunion), I thought our marriage was a big shocker, but every one seems to have expected it from as far back as...well, at least high school if not childhood.
They were ahead of us.
Some of us have known each other since elementary school, including Beve and me. In fact, one of the best moments was when our 3 and 4th grade teacher surprised us at our Saturday dinner. We all gathered round like it was yesterday. Considering only 70 alumni were at this reunion, the number that came from this one elementary class alone is extraordinary. It was sweet to see her and she knew each of us so well, like it was yesterday, rather than almost 50 years ago. I loved that woman, I really did. She was so dear to Beve and me that she helped host a wedding shower for us when we married 18 years after we were in her class. (That's a small town for you, isn't it?)
There were significant conversations. Moments of great importance. It's taken me several days to write about it (I got home Tuesday night--sick and tired!), because I've had to process on my own for a bit. I still hardly know what to make of the hardest of them.
But I will try.
Before we ate on Saturday evening, the reunion committee chair (one of my closest friends, then and still) asked me to say grace. Even as I said yes, I began praying about how to be not merely ecumenical but considerate of those in our class who might not believe at all. I didn't script a prayer (there was no time, nor would I have anyway) but I did decide to forego my normal "Father God" for "Almighty God" to begin, and "In Jesus' Name" at the end.
We gathered for our picture, then I prayed. It was a prayer centered on place--the beautiful land where we were formed and grew together, studied together, played together, became friends together; and the people with whom we gathered, those who had known us at the beginning of our journeys, and how that knowing made them true friends in deep ways. It was, perhaps more to the company than to God, but I felt comfortable with it. He hears, understands, knows my heart. And the company was made up of such a diverse population.
Afterwards, MANY thanked me. Some of my former classmates surprised me with their thoughtful responses. But I don't know where their lives have taken them any more than they know my journey. After all, it's been 40 years, right?
So almost 3 hours later I walked out to the patio of this lovely restaurant on the hills where Beve was sitting with an old friend and his wife, also a classmate. I thought to sit by Beve but she said, "Can I just say, I was deeply offended that you prayed."
"I'm so sorry," I began.
She cut me off. "You can't be sorry. You DID offend me."
And she was off. She's an atheist, and so are her kids. and she's all about 'raising the banner of atheism.' Twenty-five minutes (there were lots of people paying attention) of her ripping me about it, praying, being a Christian, 'this' becoming a Christian group. I can't tell you all of it. I won't.
What I will tell you are just a couple of things: one is that, as Beve put it, my praying clearly 'hit a nerve.' Before she actually heard what I said, she'd walked away. It wasn't content that mattered, anyway. Secondly, this was the first conversation this old classmate and I have EVER had. I told her that. She said, "But I knew who you were."
"I knew who you were, too," I told her.
My point, though, is that she'd made assumptions about me without ever talking to me. About prayer, too. (She thinks--oddly--that only Christians pray, for instance, but that's besides the point here)
While she spat nails at me, I felt (STRONGLY) that my position was clear. To pray (ironic, huh?) and respond in love and...to sit with her and simply be with her.
By the time our conversation ended, we hugged. She didn't apologize but she did admit that perhaps we might have more in common than she had imagined. She had started about by saying that Christians are judgmental, and are the ones who persecute. Always. By the end she was calling me kind.
Afterwards, I was so exhausted I needed to bawl, crawl into bed and process, probably in that order. But I definitely had to get out of there so I could cry HARD. Beve and I hugged just a couple of people and I left. So shaky and exhausted by what it took to have such venom spewed on me, I could hardly stagger to the car.
I've had time to process it now. I've prayed a lot about it.
I've wondered if it was for that exact conversation that I was at that reunion.
There were many good conversations. Sweet ones.
After the weekend, I decamped to a lake place with my own sweet girlfriends for three days and we laughed and ate and laughed some more. It was a great, rollicking 'heart-tickle,' as one of them put it to me.
But I won't soon forget that 25 minutes Saturday night, not because it colored the reunion for me. Well, it did. Of course it did. It was meant to. Moments like that don't come along very often. And I want to know that I was LOVE to her, that I acted like Him whom she doesn't know. May the One who loves her, though she doesn't believe He exists, be the One she saw and heard and even hugged in those moments.
And may I call myself blessed to have been His instrument to be used by Him in such times: not only when conversations are sweet but when they're bitter.