Monday, August 16, 2010
I thought I was in heaven, but it was only my high school reunion - Boers
I don’t know about you, but there was much about high school that I hated. I was a nerdy, studious fellow, disdained by jocks and other “cool” people who knew how to dress fashionably. And, truth be told, I disdained them as well. I was very, very glad when those tough years ended and it came time to go off to university. I never stepped within the halls of Niagara District Secondary School (NDSS) again, not for thirty-plus years.
But when NDSS decided to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary – in the year as it happened that I turned 50 too – I felt drawn to attend. It would be my first high school reunion. I approached with mixed feelings. I was excited about seeing friends that I’d maintained contact with. I was interested to meet folks that I’d been fond of back then. I was curious about what had happened to many people. But I also wondered: How would I respond to those I found cruel and off-putting years ago? Would I feel centered out and isolated once more? Would being there reawaken old anxieties? How long could I last? How many hours – or minutes – would it be before I reverted into an ill-at-ease adolescent again? Even so, my excitement also increased as more and more people signed up on the website and I noticed that people important to me were planning to attend.
My first surprise was how much I’d forgotten. I pride myself on having a good memory for names, faces, conversations, facts, and events. But many people who spoke to me seemed unfamiliar. I could not place them, even when they told me their names. Sometimes when they told me who they were, I realized that I had not thought of them even once in all the intervening decades!
My next surprise was how eager folks were to sum up entire lives in a few sentences. We all had particular themes about marriages and divorces, number of children, jobs, accomplishments, set-backs. Hard to believe that all those years of living could be condensed to a paragraph or two.
But two epiphanies in particular brought me up short.
First, many fellow schoolmates talked about the hardships they endured during those high school years. We recalled a classmate who committed suicide after his parents’ divorce; both divorce and suicides were rare in our experience back then. One told of sexual abuse by her father. Another acquaintance spoke of the physical and emotional abuse he received from his dad. Another talked about how her mother’s mental illness forced her to drop out in Grade 13. And here I thought that I was the only one in high school that was hurting.
Hearing these accounts reminds me of a favourite saying by a famous ancient philosopher, Philo of Alexandria: “Be compassionate, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
And, second, I also visited at length with people that I actively disliked back in high school. And here too I heard about their struggles. Those were good interactions. We were all hurting back then and lashing out at each other from our woundedness. Like the old cliché goes: hurt people hurt people. Now, however, we had mercy for each other. We understood and even forgave one another.
I decided that that’s what heaven will be like. Here on earth, in the midst of heated battles, conflicts, misunderstandings and dealing with disappointments, it’s sometimes hard to know what to make of the decisions and actions of others. But when we get to heaven, we’ll visit each other with defining stories and see how all of us in our limitations and brokenness were fighting great battles. Our compassion and forgiveness will be full and complete.
Before the reunion if you’d asked me to label high school, I might have been tempted to compare it to the realm of brimstone, wailing, and gnashing teeth. But the anniversary celebration was a foretaste of heaven. I’m looking forward to that reunion too.
Arthur Boers is the author of The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and holds the RJ Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.
Posted by Arthur Boers at 8/16/2010 06:00:00 am
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose," Jim Elliot wrote in his journal on October 28...
Blessed means more than just saying thank you. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines blessed with such words as sanctified; often...
One would think that with the arrival of printed copies of a book that has been the object of one’s labour for an extended time, there w...
“I’m going to give you some wisdom that you might find simple and a little strange”, I said to the harried woman sitting across from me. ...
My mom was a real character. Born in 1920, she lived through poverty, the loss of her mother as a young child, a journey by ship to a new c...
I was a pre-teen when I began to tithe 10% of my meagre allowance. There were no school buses or free textbooks so my parents bore the edu...
Have you ever asked yourself, where is the best place to live? Where is the best place to grow-up? Where is the best place to find work, s...
When social Darwinism hit Alberta, some of the episodes could have come from a sci-fi novel about human breeding programs. That’s what we ...
It happened sixteen years ago. A young woman came to me and with tears in her eyes asked me if I would mentor her. I was startled. I didn...
In the space of a minute or so his cute, round face morphs from serene, to gentle smiles and silent giggles. Smiles break into a few second...