“My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.”
—W. B. Yeats, Vacillation, Part IV
We cared for each other once — I thought, as I surveyed my former classmates seated at rows of tables — way back when we were young, so long ago that perhaps it might have been only yesterday.
Why do we come, I wondered; why do we periodically gather together in our later years? To boast of our accomplishments? To brag about our children? Some might; but personally, I experienced little of that.
Mostly, I think we gather to touch a common base that once we were a part of, a community of sorts, a home. Our gatherings become periodic homecomings, where we eat and drink, sit and reminisce, tell our stories, and listen.
The stories themselves can become quite intimate. Suddenly, in the moment, we are prone to share beyond what we might have felt we comfortably could. “I didn’t graduate with our class,” one woman told me. “I got pregnant, dropped out, had my baby, then went back to complete my GED. I got a good job with the state, and then after 40 years, I retired. Life is good.”
“In high school I was painfully shy,” a man at the top of his profession told me. I had always considered him to be quietly reserved.
“You will always hold a piece of my heart,” another woman whispered, as she hugged me at the end of the evening before we left.
In each interaction I felt blessed, blessed that some folks I hadn’t seen in perhaps 45 years felt comfortable enough to share such intimate details of their lives with me. I trust that I may have blessed some of them just by listening attentively to their stories.
When we said our final farewells and walked out the door, overhead a full moon blazed in the clear night sky. As I looked up at that ancient glowing orb, I considered that those who came had chosen to make themselves vulnerable once again, to offer up the remnants of their broken lives to one another, perhaps in the hope of finding forgiveness and a certain undefined redemption.
In our gathering together, I felt overwhelmingly certain that some of us had indeed.