Monday, June 21, 2010

Reunited and it feels so good

There were only 23 people in my class.

Most of the folks who witnessed me hiding under Miss Lawrence's piano on the first day of kindergarten were by my side still as I smiled and walked away with my diploma. The lot of us lived on the lower tier of middle class, small town girls and boys, every last one of us white as Wonder Bread. The range of diversity spanned only the tiniest sliver of the color wheel, from olive-skinned Vinnie Cappabianca to alabaster Erin Brannigan. Something else we share in common is a collective apathy about reuniting. For many of us, the moment our paths diverged in 1982, we became strangers. In almost thirty years, we have yet to so much as get together for a beer. Some of us have made the virtual reconnection made possible through the magic of Facebook, and some have come together for a smattering of lunches and cocktails. There are also a precious few friendships that have stood the test of time, people whose lives have been forever intertwined by the shared experiences of youth. But for some mysterious reason, an overall sense of communal belonging has eluded us. Or at least it's eluded me.

Last weekend, I attended my first class reunion . . . not with my class, but with my husband, and the Little Rock Central High Class of 1980. And it was magical. I left it with much more than aching feet and a mild hangover. I left with inspiration. Watching these old friends reconnect was a beautiful thing. It was clear that these people didn't just walk the same halls together thirty years ago, they didn't just share notes and giggle about the same teachers. Somehow, they became a family. I watched as they embraced and laughed and danced and reminisced. Their smiles were genuine. When one woman fell ill in the midst of her old friends, their concern was equally genuine. These were not just classmates, these were friends, bound by more than just the past.

But what was it, I wondered; what made this class so special? Was it their size (nearly 500 strong) or their diversity (smiling faces in every shade from ivory to ebony). Maybe each of them has been forever changed, made better, simply by the unique privilege of having shared a place and time with their extraordinary classmate, Roosevelt Thompson. Or, maybe they had no choice but to come together to weather the devastation of his life being cut tragically short. Or perhaps there is just something in the air at Central High, some lingering essence that students pick up through osmosis simply by sharing classrooms that were once rife with hatred and struggle, intolerance and cruelty. Within the walls of this school, injustice was fought, ignorance was challenged, history was made. Perhaps just spending time there imparts the profound understanding that friendship is no small thing, but an honor, a gift to be cherished and preserved.

Elizabeth Eckford, Little Rock Central High, 1957

Whatever it was that knit this group together, I was proud to be in their presence. And I feel certain that Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Beals would be proud, too.

I am inspired, and I'm funneling that inspiration into plans for my own 30 year reunion. Not so that I can compare what we had to what my husband's class had, not so that we can compare how far we've come or how much we've changed. But so I can remind myself of what these people already know, that friendship is precious and we should grab it with both hands, and hold on.
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stacyc said...

Lovely, Susan! Nice to read an "outsider's" perspective! We love our Danny and you seemed to have completed his life. We gladly accept you as a member of our class!

Judy said...

Susan, Beautiful thoughts beautifully written. Actually, I'm teary as I write this. I'm so glad that Dan's reunion was such a roaring success. My best to each of you...and to that marvelous class.

Chris Amsler, LRCH Class of '79 said...

WOW Susan. Thanks for making me cry at work. ;-) It amazes me that after simply spending one weekend with your husband's class, you totally "get it". Even after attending LRCH for 3 years, graduating, and going to every one of my Class Reunions, I could not have written such eloquent words. Furthermore, until reading this, I have probably taken for granted the magic that you described; but, now I will cherish that magic. Nicely done Susan.

Oh, btw, did I ever say, it was a pleasure meeting you last weekend? :-) Well, it was.

Thank you!

Angela said...

I guess that I always had the idea that what I thought and felt about Central was what everyone thought and felt about their high school and graduating class. It was so good for me to read your words, so elequently written, and to realize that what we had and have IS special. Thank you so much, Susan, for being a part of the magic and writing about it.

Soozietoone said...

I got all emotional and I didn't even go there or know any of the people. My sister and I toured it last week and it just sent shivers down my spine, thinking of what those kids had to endure every day and their legacy of courage and determination. Kept thinking about kids griping at having to get up and go to school and having no understanding of what that even means.

Bailey said...

Having just graduated from my eighth grade class, I wonder what our reunion will be like. Yes, we will have a reunion after all this is Anthony we are talking about. All i know is I really don't like the people I just left, but I do hope that when I see them 4 years ahead that they will have grown up. It was a tough journey through kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. I was bullied and left out, and I'm so happy to be going on to high school.

After reading this, I feel inspired. I know I will never forget my classmates, but most importantly I know I will never forget my journey at Anthony. This was a brutal journey, yet I know that I left my childhood school with more wisdom and independance than they could ever imagine.

Good luck in your journey. Even though yours is longer than mine, it will continue on, and I hope it continues as a good one.

Sorry for the long post,