On Saturday Oct. 1, 2016, I will have the honor of attending the 40th Reunion of St. Brendan High School’s class of 1976. I will travel 40 years back in time to an event that symbolizes the birth of everything I am today.
The old building sat on the corner of Avenue O and East 13th Street in Brooklyn. There was nothing fancy about it or its four floors. Elevators were nonexistent. The uniforms were hideous. The entire student body consisted of about 800 students … all girls.
The cafeteria doubled as the auditorium, but the tuna sandwiches on a bagel were to die for. If you look up dungeon in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of what used to be the gym. Going next door to Egypt — the single family home owned by the parish — meant stopping by to visit George — or Father Cowan as we called him in front of the nuns. It was George who brought religion out of the closet for me and helped me understand it so I could incorporate it into my everyday life.
The faculty and students who called it home, made up for what St. Brendan lacked.
It was a time when phones were dumb, snails were the only mail carriers, and no one gave a crap about the dysfunctional reality television family du jour because we were too busy caring about our own lives and the real people in it.
In an instant, I can transport myself back to the fourth floor stairs where Deb Marano and I hid while playing the songs Joe Gagliardi taught us to play on the guitar. I can feel the joy of winning the annual Sing three years in a row. Retreats on Shelter Island, encounters at St. Paul’s, ring night, proms. They are all there, so close to the surface, I can taste them.
They were some of the happiest years of my life, years I often use as a guide to get me back on track whenever I start to drift from the path to my purpose.
Those were the years that shaped me, emotionally and spiritually. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become. But I was so busy living life in the moment — and trusting that things would turn out exactly the way they were supposed to turn out — that worry and doubt weren’t even part of my vocabulary.
Praying came easy. I was meditating before published books about how to meditate ruined the experience of just doing it. Stickball and stoop ball had not yet been replaced by “going online.” Social media was unnecessary because I was too busy being social. Life in 140 characters and tiny URLS would have seemed preposterous to me, had a visitor from the future interrupted my living the moment to show me what was in store for me.
Fast forward to now.
It’s the perfect time for this reunion. There are no accidents in this perfect Universe, and it’s time I went back to where it began so I can begin anew.
The symbolism smacks me upside the head and refuses to be ignored.
“Pay attention,” it commands. “Don’t waste this opportunity.”
In the past 18 months, I’ve had two significant loses: My father and my dog.
Growing up is no longer an option. And unconditional love has been left in my care to distribute to others.
But despite these losses, I am still an optimist. And I choose to count my blessings instead of focusing on what I no longer have.
I’ve also been fortunate to have been plucked from the precipice of the status quo, handed a blank canvas, and forced to shut up long enough to hear the shout of the still, small voice within that can no longer be silenced.
“Here,” it said. “You’ve been praying for this all your life. This is what you were put here to do. Go do it.”
I am so looking forward to Saturday night. While there are people who cringe at, or even avoid, going to their H.S. reunions, I will happily attend mine. The fact that I still fit into the uniform I fit into when I was 13 years old is simply icing on the cake.
At this juncture in my life, I am going back to the past to gather the raw materials I need to compose the symphony of my future. This is what going back to the future is all about. I can’t change what has happened, but I can allow it to pass through the filter of who I once was to get me to who I am yet to become.
It’s a time to redefine many of the truths I learned back then. I pray that they are not redefined so much as refocused. I would hate to have the wisdom I had back then be poisoned by the “maturity” I gained during the past 40 years.
The challenge is to allow innocence to embrace reality … and its disappointments … to expose its meaning and purpose, to help us salvage the dreams we had back then and remind us that it’s never too late to make them come true.
In closing, my fellow travelers from the class of 1976 — and anyone else in whose heart my words resonate — I offer the following:
Never lose sight that your dreams can come true. And remember that everything you send out into the world comes back to you multiplied.
See you on Saturday.