This past week I had the good fortune to travel back home for a small, off-milestone, high school class reunion. Maybe better said, a small gathering of interested parties. I had been back and forth lately from my home in New Jersey to help my aging mom and this get-together fit perfectly into my schedule. What I didn’t see coming was how impactful the experience would be for me.
I suppose my leisure reading as of late had put me in a mindset of being open, curious and grateful. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, had reminded me to keep searching for my “personal legend” or follow my heart, no matter what responsibilities had clouded its vision. Ada Calhoun’s Why We Can’t Sleep had reported that Gen X women are currently sandwiched in between caring for elder parents, growing children and suffering from the heavy and huge expectations that were placed upon us as kids. We were the first generation of women who could truly have it all. The issue was that no one told us how large a load that would be, or how we’d constantly be asking ourselves if we had made the right decisions along the way. If you didn’t have kids you’d have to justify why in public settings, or if you did you’d be constantly worrying about the level of attention you were giving based upon all your other duties.
During this short, 4 hour or so homecoming, I had conversations that shed light on the 25 year life choices of all of us. Some of us chose to have families, some did not. Some made choices where they said goodbye to long held dreams in the pursuit of something unexpectedly better. Some laughed in the face of conservative normalized traditions to follow what their hearts told them was right.
We came clean about how had we had viewed the world back in high school. Caste structures of classes kept many of us from truly getting to know one another. We told stories of how we were suddenly shunned, or had to find new friends, based upon the whim of social popularity standards so intensely craved during those formative and sometimes harrowing years. We learned about true, lasting friendship. Some had to bear loads far too heavy for any young high schooler, given the dirty politics of real life and relentless press coverage on top of it.
In my life right now, I’m going through the middle/high school years with my own children, which are so evocative of memories of my past, both good and bad. I am trying to shepherd an aging, strictly conservative aging mom through the next stage of her life. During this small reuniting, I spoke to girls I hadn’t spoken to in 25 years, maybe more given our cliques, and received short but brilliant nuggets of advice which filled my heart with the determination to move forward. I was inspired by those who had made choices in the face of adversity, with the fortitude of a true, living superwoman hero.
As I said goodbye with robust hugs, hoping to capture my true emotions, I was offered future rides for my mom to church, heartfelt “I love yous” from those to whom I hadn’t uttered a word in 25 years, and a myriad of invitations for my next time in town. But most importantly, I left with the courage to keep going. I would take with me examples of the strength to face any and all challenges head on. I left with the spirit of a group of strong, accomplished and fearless women who would light the way. I had realized the true meaning of returning home, grateful to have been so lucky to experience it all.