Part 1: Making Ready for the Journey
At some moments we experience complete unity within us and around us. This may happen when we stand on a mountaintop and are captivated by the view. It may happen when we witness the birth of a child or the death of a friend. It may happen when we have an intimate conversation or a family meal. It may happen in church during a service or in a quiet room during prayer. But whenever and however it happens we say to ourselves: “This is it … everything fits … all I ever hoped for is here.”
This is the experience that Peter, James, and John had on the top of Mount Tabor when they saw the aspect of Jesus’ face change and his clothing become sparkling white. They wanted that moment to last forever (see Luke 9:28-36). This is the experience of the fullness of time. These moments are given to us so that we can remember them when God seems far away and everything appears empty and useless. These experiences are true moments of grace.
—Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
Over the long weekend of November 4-8, I had the privilege of attending the 50th reunion of the Globe High School class of 1971–my first. Language is my love and my vocation, so not surprisingly, I abhor the tired and the outworn. With that preference in mind, I realize that few stories could be more trite than that of the 68-year-old man or woman (we’re all 68–except for Eddie Casillas!) having moving experiences at a 50th class reunion. When people have asked me politely how I enjoyed the reunion, they can scarcely conceal their sidelong glances when I begin rhapsodizing about that life-changing experience. More than one has asked some version of “you’re kidding, right?” But no, I wouldn’t—couldn’t—kid about those five days in November when I had the rare opportunity to make peace with and find joy in my past. And please pardon the cliché, but both figurative and literally, I would describe those precious days as a mountaintop experience, full to the brim with moments of grace.
All is vanity: The decision
I intend to be brutally honest in this often confessional series of posts, so I must begin by revealing the reason that I hadn’t attended any of the four previous decennial reunions. It certainly wasn’t lack of attachment to the town, the school, or the people. I lived on Noftsger Hill for my entire childhood, directly across the street from the eponymous elementary school I attended with several people I saw at the reunion. Patty Troglia, for example, was in all my classes from kindergarten through high school; we shared membership in the safety patrol, had the same piano teacher, always attended each other’s birthday parties, and played in the band together.
[Click on the photos to enlarge.]
We were a tight-knit class in the tight-knit community of Globe, Arizona. Coming from three elementary schools, we joined together for junior high and high school. We all knew the pungent odor of smelter smoke on mornings when the wind came from the west. We all marked the beginning and ending of each day with the 8:00 and 9:30 whistles, which also notified us when and where there was a fire in town. Because Globe’s economy depended on the mines—and a large percentages of our fathers actually worked there—we suffered together during the ten-month nationwide copper strike in 1967. We checked out stacks of books at the Old Dominion Library, learned to swim at the School Hill pool, and watched our movies at the Globe and Alden Theaters. And even though they called me fatty-fatty-two-by-four and sneered at me when I got academic accolades, I’m pretty sure my classmates cheered for me when I won the Arizona State Spelling Bee in 1967. We were the brown and red and white brothers and sisters in a large and close family, and I called Globe my home until I left for graduate school in North Carolina in 1975.
What am I saying? I still call it home.
As each decade passed, I dreamed of attending the reunion of the class that was my family in that town we all call home. Unfortunately, the lifelong struggle with my weight that earned me the hated nickname in elementary school and beyond continued into adulthood, and my up-and-down weight was always up when 1981, 1991, and subsequent decade markers rolled around. Yes, I admit abjectly that I missed reunions one through four because I was too fat. I continued visiting my family in Globe all those years, and occasionally I saw a former classmate, but I was unwilling to put my obesity on display and thus missed many precious opportunities to reunite with dear friends, some of whom are now gone, including Virgie Garcia, my childhood neighbor on Noftsger Hill; Dale Collins, with whom I shared the titillating pink pamphlet we girls were given in the sixth grade when the school nurse taught us about menstruation; and Carol Erstad, my best friend in junior high and daughter of the school nurse.
The story would, of course, be more instructive if my attendance at the 50th came despite excessive girth. But sadly, I have to confess that the gleeful impulse to attend my first class reunion was based at least in part on the success of the intensive program of nutrition and fitness that I began in 2018. Perhaps not all was vanity, but certainly the desire to show off my lean and muscular frame played a significant rôle in my desire to see my GHS classmates for the first time in a half century.
I began early in the year searching for information about a possible reunion, sending emails to the always faithful Patty Troglia and hoping that our opportunity to reunite as a class would not fall victim to the pandemic as had the previous year’s plans.
Reconciliation as reunion: A new/old friend
A second, more powerful—and more profound—inspiration came in the aftermath of an unexpected text message on January 28 of last year:
Vicki, this is Pam Park Brown. I have been meaning to look you up for years now, but finally went to People Looker and found you. If you would like to reconnect, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam was not one of our kindergarten-to-graduation classmates. She joined us at Globe Junior High School when her father, who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was transferred to the nearby San Carlos Apache Reservation. Like me, she was musical and smart, so even though she was in choir and I was in band, we shared many school activities. Our paths crossed when I accompanied the girls’ triple trio in junior high and when we were chosen as rising seniors to attend Arizona Girls’ State, a week-long summer program in citizenship, leadership, and the governing process sponsored by the American Legion. We finished as valedictorian and salutatorian of our class.
Whether because of my weight, my prudish moral rectitude, or my good grades—or, more likely, because I was arrogant and spiteful—I was never well liked in school. Despite her similarly good grades and Mormon rectitude, the willowy and vivacious Pam, by contrast, was wildly popular—at least in my jealous imaginings. Pam became a foreign exchange student to Iran (I had applied several times in vain), was elected student body treasurer (I never had the courage to run for any school-wide or even class office), and defeated me as president of our National Honor Society chapter (that’s a story for another paragraph).
The latter event was one of the memories that still stung when I received Pam’s text message this year. With all the academic honors under my belt, I was sure I would be chosen by acclaim for that office. So when the election results were read, I began crying and, ashamed of my tears, went to the bathroom to nurse my wounds. The next day, Pam renounced the office in my favor. She told me she would be too busy with choir and voice ensemble and student-body office to give full attention to her duties with the honor society. I gratefully accepted her generosity but felt both abject and guilty in the belief that she had made the decision out of pity, to assuage my tears.
And there was more. From our freshman year onward, I had considered Dwight Corriveau my best friend. With post-pubescent fervor, I would have called us soulmates, and we certainly confided in and commiserated with one another to the extent that we became constant companions. Of course, I dreamed that someday he would be my boyfriend. I went with him to Phoenix for his dermatology appointments, we spent time at each other’s homes, and I even joined the Mormon Church in part because I thought it would keep us together.
Dwight never saw me as a romantic interest, however. One evening as we neared the end of high school, we were playing in the pep band at a basketball game when he told me he had to find a girl to invite to the prom because his mother said if he didn’t invite someone, she would go as his date. And one afternoon at the foot of the spiral staircase in his family’s wonderful old house, he made the following even clearer pronouncement: “We have to stop seeing each other so much because people might think we are dating.” You guessed it. Soon Pam and Dwight were an item. And I had more to be jealous of—and more to feel guilty about when Dwight honored our innocent pledge as freshman to march together at graduation.
I was too petty and peevish to recognize how much Pam and I had in common and how we could have enriched each other’s lives. So Pam and I did not become friends in high school—a fact I came to regret in the ensuing decades. After reconnecting with a number of Globe friends via Facebook, I periodically tried to locate Pam—to no avail. But it turns out that Pam was having those same regrets and tried with more effort and thus more success to locate me. And with spiritual inspiration and profound humility, she wrote:
And now the reason for my reaching out to you: for many years I have regretted not being a better friend to you in high school. It is truly the one regret of my years in Globe. Somehow I think I was so busy trying to be as good a student as you were that I let it pass by me that we could have been good friends. You and Christie are and were truly gifted students. I am one of those people who could cram well for a test, and therefore get good grades, but “brilliant” would never be a word to describe me. But the good news is, since high school I have learned that it takes all kinds of people and talents to make this world go round, so the fact that I wasn’t a brilliant student didn’t make me less of a person.
It was our mutual friend, the aforementioned Christie, who later provided the most beautiful insight about this long postponed joining together: in most similar rifts, the parties blame each other. But in our case, each of us blamed herself. Thus, the reconciliation involved only forgiveness of ourselves, which may be the most difficult of all.
Waiting and hoping: And a gift of grace
Initial fears that either hesitancy to attend—or even government mandates—might prevent a reunion from even being scheduled in the age of COVID were put to rest when we received information in early March that dates and venues had been chosen. The anticipation that a class reunion would actually bring our reconciliation to full fruition peppered the emails and text messages Pam and I exchanged over the ensuing months. I managed to overcome the parsimony that had prevented me from going to Arizona since 2007 and resolved to make sure I saved enough money for fare, lodging, and several meals at La Casita. I even overcame the fear of asking for time off from my teaching schedule and made sure missing class for a couple of days unrelated to illness would not create any ripples in my always precarious job status.
And then the other shoe dropped or the axe fell or whatever tired cliché I was dreading dashed all my hopes for a homecoming. In July, we learned that the Town of Selma would required extensive repairs on the historic home we had been renting for twelve years, so our rent was going to increase substantially. But then the landlady made the decision to sell the property, and I began to realize that moving would strain our always tight budget to the breaking point. We kept trying to figure out a way for me to go, but as our house hunting seemed more and more hopeless and concerns about exorbitant rent or even longer commutes became very real possibilities, I decided that I could not possibly squander our limited resources on what was beginning to seem a self-indulgent luxury. On September 6, I wrote Pam an email entitled “Very sad news to share.” I described our struggles to find a place to live and our realization that we would have to save every penny for the upcoming move and then acknowledged, “I have now realized that I will not be able to attend the event that I lave looked forward to for years and even decades—even more since you and I came in contact.”
Within five hours of that plaintive email, a miracle of selfless love occurred. Pam responded:
Greg and I would be glad to give you the money for your airfare and the cost of the reunion dinner, as well as pick you up and take you back to Sky Harbor airport. Even though I worked only part time for eleven years for the school district, I still get a small pension from Utah Retirement Systems, so I would happily give you a couple of months of my pension so you could come to Globe. . . . We call this pension our “mad money” and we usually use it for fun or out-of-the-normal budget projects, so this fits right into that mind set. Please consider it!
Perhaps more than any other single experience in my life, this act of pure generosity taught me in practical terms the meaning of one of the most elusive concepts defined in the catechism. According to Anglican theology, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills” (Book of Common Prayer 858).
Of course, God works these miracles of grace through others in this, his earthly Kingdom. As powerfully described in the 16th-century by St. Teresa of Ávila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
After much thought, introspection, and consultation with my husband, Pavel, I tearfully accepted Pam’s gift. Pavel himself was humbled and moved tears when he realized for perhaps the first time that people are capable of such selfless goodness.
Saying yes to Pam was only the first of my many mountaintop experiences related to the 50th reunion of the Globe High School Class of 1971. I hope my logorrhea will not deter you from returning to the blog in the next few days as I share more of them in subsequent posts.