Reunion at Seabreeze
Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “you can’t go home again.” Perhaps, but on the rarest of occasions, we just might catch a glimpse of home, shimmering faintly in the distance.
The elevator slowly rose, carrying us back 40 years to those halcyon days when the road of life stretched before us with seemingly infinite possibilities. On the 10th floor, the doors opened to a room full of vaguely familiar faces and the 40th reunion of the Seabreeze High School class of 1971. For the next two hours we enjoyed constant smiles and interrupted conversations as we shared our lives in two-minute sound bites.
Was it really 40 years ago that we filed into Peabody Auditorium one last time? I still remember that odd mix of excitement and melancholy when I realized that after all the years and distance we had traveled together, our futures would never be linked again. Like every class before and after us, we too scattered on the wind. Yet here we were, at least a respectable number of us, together again after 40 years.
A glance around the room suggested that life had been good. Yes we were older but for the most part, the ladies remained attractive and the gentlemen fit. Nearly everyone exuded the confidence that a life of hard work and success brings. Of course, the relentless march of time and gravity eventually has their way with all of us. And so it was helpful, though painful, to wear our senior pictures pinned to our chests as temporal identification badges. Though we changed with the years, the eyes and smiles remained the same and it was wonderful to recognize an old friend from across the room. Here were the kids I surfed with, the brains, the jocks, the cheerleaders, and my special friends from R.J. Longstreet Elementary, including the little blonde girl who helped me pick out a boxer puppy nearly 50 years ago. Are there truer bonds than these?
Maybe we were just the lucky ones, those proud enough of our accomplishments or the hand that fate dealt us, to embrace the reunion. After all, barely 20% of our class was present. In taking stock of those who remained, it was impossible not to remember our absent friends. Our class has suffered more that its share of losses and the list of those passed on is uncomfortably long. We missed the football stars, the budding politician, the great surfer, sweethearts lost in a distant plane crash and too many other young men and women who never had the chance to fully experience life like we have. Many others were simply unaccounted for, missing in action I suppose. But we, the fortunate ones, were present.
Not so surprisingly, most have done well. As predicted, the intelligentsia became research scientists, CPAs, physicians and engineers. Others were teachers, lawyers and business leaders, while the truly dedicated and hardest working among us became homemakers and mothers. So for too brief a time, we discussed careers, children and marriages. We shared war stories, potholes along the way and hopes for the future. In the course of our conversations, we observed how time had compressed our differences, leveling the playing field. How a brush with mortality stripped away ego and conceit, allowing us to simply be who we were all along -- fellow travelers along the road.
That senior year, one of my favorite teachers was “Father” Grasso who taught Philosophy. Yes, once upon a time, before test scores trumped a well-balanced education, students were afforded the opportunity to study truly interesting subjects. The son of a prominent Daytona Beach family, Father Grasso studied to be a monk but ultimately chose a life of education. He was a tall man with a symmetrically round, owl like face and a desert dry sense of humor. Without question, he was an amazing teacher. That Philosophy class was packed with some of the brighter students and a few of us more pedestrian types. Father Grasso often began each day by asking the class an obtuse, rhetorical question. It was always greeted with complete silence and clueless stares. After slowly scanning our blank faces, an exasperated Father Grasso would look to the heavens and sigh, “Not even one!” It never failed to crack me up.
Of course Father Grasso knew that at 18 we barely saw life through the glass darkly. Now, after 40 years of collected experiences, bumps and bruises, successes and failures and a rapidly approaching date with eternity, some of the answers to life’s difficult issues are slowly coming into focus. Perhaps if we were asked one of those rhetorical questions now, more than a few hands would be raised. Not just one, but many.
The night passed far too quickly and one by one, we slowly took leave of friends we had not seen for so many years. Some we will never see again. And as the tide slowly withdrew, pulling us on to our individual destinies, I couldn’t help but glance once more over my shoulder, at that one brief shining moment, yes, the motto of our senior high prom, when we all shared in Camelot.
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