Sunday, February 25, 2007

High School Reunion

What should I wear to my reunion? Should I look successful? Should I look casual as if the event were a low-key social occasion that should nothing more pressing arise I would attend? Who will I see? Who do I want to see? Will I remember their names, faces, classes we had together? Should I review the yearbook ahead of time? Should I play golf on Friday? The price for this whole affair is rather steep – I must be at the low end of those who made it in the class – or perhaps my priorities are misplaced. Some of my classmates traveled from California and Texas to be here – It’s our 20-year reunion, spare no cost. What is a reunion anyway? Were we ever a union? Was the PVHS Senior Class of 1982 ever a union?

I have seen unions, or heard of them – bands of brothers bound invisibly by their proximity to death, unearthly stress, or tragic circumstance. Nine miners in Pennsylvania will no doubt reunite from time to time. That will be a reunion.

What of this high school reunion? Is this reunion more important than the ones my preschooler has with her pre-school friends once a week over the summer. I’m not sure my 4-year-old cares – other than it’s definitely fun to get together and play. She doesn’t have the option to stay home. Her mom has made that decision for her – as she will also make the decision on what to wear. Perhaps I should let my wife choose my tie - should I wear a tie? But I have the option not to go. Most will not go.

Does 300 kids struggling to be men and women constitute a union? Is there a compelling reason for this union to draw large numbers of our friends back together? Was there a common theme in high school to unite us the rest of our lives? Four years spent in high school represented 25% of our lives up to that point. The number is closer to 35% if you discount time before age 4 - which few of us can remember. Life moved slowly. Summers stretched endlessly. We yearned to understand our bodies, our relationships, and our insecurities. Some things don’t change. Life moves faster these days, summers end before they begin, and the reunion – a full six hours of fun – was over in the blink of an eye. With four full hours remaining Vicki remarked that the reunion was going by too fast – I sensed she wanted to stop the clock and freeze the memories in time as they have been frozen forever in our yearbooks, team photos, and class memorabilia.

The time we spent at PVHS represents closer to 10% of our current lives. Until we left home we had been with our parents our entire lives. As we approach 40 we seem to have lived less than half our lives with our parents. When we die, if we are lucky, less than a fifth of our lives will have been spent with our parents. This is why our departed friends and their early deaths were so tragic. Their short lives never expanded to the point where time begins to collapse events back into more manageable segments. Segments we would like to forget (divorce, illness, death), segments we would like to remember (college, military service, a good job). Those who married right out of high school have now lived more time with their own families then they did, or can remember they did, with their parents. And now that my daughter is four I have spent more time with her than with any of you. Yet leaving her with a sitter to be with my high school class seems very appropriate, although telling everyone about her, and hearing about classmate’s families seems even more appropriate.

I was not popular in high school. I was not athletic, I was not well known, I was not good looking, I didn’t know how to kiss well, I didn’t walk with a bounce, and I didn’t drink beer (at least my parents didn’t think so). I was jealous of the popular and more outgoing in our class, those who tended to carry the spirit and hold things together. I hung out with those who might turn to drugs or in today’s society might turn to something infinitely more tragic to get attention. I certainly wasn’t picked on, but I certainly did find weapons attractive and we certainly did try to blow things up with fireworks after school before our parents came home. I can’t believe this is any different from any high school anywhere in the United States - Pleasant Valley, Pine View, Pedro Vista, or Palos Verde High Schools all celebrating PVHS Class of 1982 reunions this summer.

As PVHS students we lived in our cliques. 300 different minds and bodies. Some, perhaps, in search of individualism but most of us not knowing what that meant. Organized by acceptance, physical appearance, or athletic prowess we intersected awkwardly and bumped forward with one another toward graduation. In a place none of us choose. A place our parents happened to set down their lives, many of them no older then we are now. A place the local government said we would attend while the friends we never knew from Sugar-land Run and Forest Ridge would attend our rival school. A place where we suffered broken homes, disappointment, and life in general. Now after 20 years, as a class, we have had our share of this same life our parents and teachers endeavored to make better for us, as we attempt to make life better for our children. In a world that since September 11th has changed overnight. The same world that changed overnight on Dec 7th 1941 and throughout conflicts since. And in a world that will change again.

Yet we are still faced with a reunion. What has really changed? This reunion was not at the Holiday Inn. Doesn’t tradition mean anything? The Holiday Inn means so much to me – I worked there, I partied with classmates in rooms there, I discovered beer there, my neighbor cheated on her husband there, and as I remember, our former principle spent a lot of time drinking there. Perhaps it’s better to have the reunion at the Hyatt. Wouldn’t want to have to explain the Holiday Inn to my daughter.

But what else has changed? Our families are ten years older since the last reunion. More children have been born, marriages have come and gone, jobs have come and gone, some have made fortunes, some have found fortunes in the Lord, our waistlines have increased more, our hairlines have receded more, some of us have started our own companies, and some have won beauty pageants. Getting started could be the theme of the first ten years – college, jobs, and the start of families. Living life and working hard might be the theme of the last ten. And from what I can see – everyone is living life, experiencing life, believing in life, and working hard – except Barry. No one at our reunion was interested in himself or herself – they were interested in us, we, our class. How are we doing – PVHS Class of 1982? Just kidding about Barry.

Perhaps I didn’t feel the spirit at pep rallies, perhaps I didn’t feel the spirit at the five or ten-year reunion, perhaps I didn’t feel the spirit when I quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald for our alumni yearbook,

“So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past…”

but friends I felt the spirit at our 20th reunion. I’ve graduated from three colleges, I’ve been in the military and have been regularly reunited with my buddies, and my parents come from big families, which require regular family reunions. High school was never high on my list of most favorite times in life, and that is unfortunate for me. But seeing everyone there, those I recognized, those I did not. It didn’t matter – for me each of you represents a life worth living and a life worth knowing. We cannot know everyone in the world – but it is nice to know that those we spent endless summers with, coming of age in a chance location are in fact joined – a union. We did not choose to be together – we were together by an act of grace larger than us all. The reunion committee, 100% women, perhaps mature to these simple facts much earlier than men. They have produced and incredible memory and should be profoundly thanked. This memory is one that I will not only cherish but one that compels me to cherish the memories of our days in high school even more. So, yes, the six hours flew by and I gained much but missed even more.

I never had the opportunity to tell Don I drove a Mustang GT in the early nineties or to courage to tell Scott T. I drove a Mustang GT in the early nineties. I missed the chance to tell Scott B. I was breaking ground on the foundation of a new room for my home and needed some expert advice. I smiled at the girls I liked – more than I did in high school – perhaps still intimidated by puppy love or perhaps just intimidated by my wife, I’m still not naming names. I missed talking soccer with Teresa, but talked to Christine about firing people. I missed figuring out how I was mistaken for Mark C. in the lobby, but talked to Shawn about the I-66/I-395 integration. I missed figuring out how Kent caught Darlene, but did talk to Darlene about their busted vacation in Aspen. I didn’t discuss the finer points of a 454 with Rich, but did talk motorcycles with Liz, Sandy, and Dana. I failed to introduce my wife to all the gymnasts I admired but since I ended up marrying a Virginia state gymnastics champion, I get a life time pass on that conversation. I did not get the chance to tell Lori we SCUBA dive, but I did tell Todd my parents still live on Lincoln - his parents still live on Beech. I talked to Jimmy but not enough to steal some of his amazing sprint. I missed talking to Joe about running a marathon – never done it but started to train and quit – three times, but I did tell Bill he married a T-Sip. I didn’t ask Mary about David but did let Don know how I felt about commercial lenders. Lend to small companies Don, we all need a chance. I felt Colin’s pain but pray I can find the same spirit and the strength he derives from his children.

So where are we now? Those of you who showed up can feel good. You made my weekend, and if you made me feel good, I believe everyone felt good about the weekend. So with much thought, great thanks to the committee, and a fond farewell until next time (I voted for a 25th) live life, make it better for the next generation, and keep in touch with one another. Our union, as adolescent as our feelings might have been, was in fact, unique. There was only one place where our 300 random but individual souls united to call our experience high school. That was Park View High School and the Class of 1982. See you all in ’07.

Terabithia -- The Greatest Story Ever Told

I viewed Bridge toTerabithia with my nine-year-old daughter last weekend. This weekend I took her back with her friend, her cousin, and my mom for a second viewing. I’m considering going a third time next weekend. Need I say more? I’ve never read the book, but I now intend to get a copy. Terabithia is not a Narina rip-off as I have read, rather, it is a real life story unlike The Chronicles of Narnia – which is a work of fantasy created to preach Christianity to the uninitiated. Terabithia starts with something real, not fantasy, and generates a story worth telling. It contains the Christian message subtly woven into it's fabric. Perhaps C.S. Lewis should have spent more time with children before he spun his yarn. Terabithia is the salvation of which C.S. Lewis must have been dreaming for with Narnia. Karen Paterson got it right.

Ok, are you ready, because some of this is a little hard to take so I’ll just put it out there for you to consider. Here is why Bridge to Terabithia is magnificent and the greatest story ever told.

There is a chasm between God and us. Call the chasm what you will – this movie uses the analogy of the creek. It has always been difficult to believe in God because we do not really know that he is on the other side. To get to God we have to take a leap of faith. Letting go of our inhibitions and taking that leap of faith is always the first step. Leslie pushes Jesse to take that first step by trusting in the rope and swinging to the other side.

So begins the journey of discovery and faith for Jesse with Leslie acting as the teacher – so that puts her in a significant role – one which I’m quite sure is missed by most Christians because they never see it coming. Leslie has a few powers that seem a little more than ordinary. She is the fastest runner. She knows the true essence of scuba diving having never actually been. She can see right into Jesse’s soul when she says to him, “Take a picture, it will last longer”. She wants to befriend everyone –including the bully. She has a genuine concern for everyone. And almost everything she does takes the form of a lesson she is trying to teach – and in the end she has taught lessons to everyone –including many adults hence the scene with Monster Mouth (Their mean teacher who seems to now soften) and her dialogue with Jesse.

But we realize that her powers are a little more exceptional than making friends and teaching. When they first enter Terabithia Leslie summons the winds – Jesus, of course, calmed the winds but this is just a story and is why it is so subtle. Also, Leslie speaks of freeing the Terabithians from their captor. In this case she speaks of the old fortress that is now dilapidated. The old fortress is the Old Testament and the approaches of the Old Testament to find God is holding it’s believers in bondage. Leslie is now presenting something New. Again she is teaching and she doesn’t stop teaching. It might seem odd that the old God is represented in this context as the Dark Master -- at the end this will be revealed as well. There are many things that happen over the next several scenes – she teaches the children and leads the “Free the Pee” revolt, she places her fingers over the mouth of May Belle when she is mocking Jesse and her, and of most significance, she goes to the Bully -- Janice Avery when she is crying and makes her feel better (She heals the sick and tormented). But remember she also pushes Jesse towards a relationship with Ms Edmunds the music teacher by getting Jesse to help her with her boxes and music equipment. She knows what she is doing and she knows she will be betrayed –although this isn’t explicit –its pretty clear she is pushing Jesse in some way and for some reason.

Now remember through all of this Leslie is being tormented because she is the new kid. She continues to teach and one of the most powerful lessons of all is when Janice sprays her with Ketchup. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the ketchup looks like blood? But what does Leslie do? She washes up at Jesse’s house so that her mother doesn’t call the school and get Janice into trouble. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. That’s what Jesus said when he was covered in blood.

Leslie continues to teach right up until the end –she catches a sun beam in her purse and finally there is the scene in the pick-up truck where she says the part about God not damning people to hell since he is too busy taking care of this beautiful place. Her teachings are almost complete. I have counted at least two parables - but I need to see the movie again. First, remember Jesse has very little money but still chooses to buy a gift for Leslie – the dog. This is an act of faith since the dog is Jesse's message to Leslie that he believes. The dog is to become their troll hunter. Second is the parable of the women searching for the lost coin. This is envoked when Jesse begins his search for the lost keys which represent a large chunk of change, about $700 by his father's estimation. He retrieves the keys but not without another huge act of faith which takes him out on a limb. But as he falls it is another of Leslie's disciples, the transformed Janice Avery, who must save him. Leslie's powers are at an all time high.

Up until this point it would still be just a nice story with some teachings but they take it further. Jesse betrays Leslie – can there be any doubt he knows he is doing it and of course Leslie dies at the creek. But the lessons continue – Leslie’s father tells Jesse that Leslie loved him – that is not just a message of friendship.

Jesse goes back to the creek and what has occurred with no explanation? A tree has fallen over the creek. The rope swing, which required Leslie’s presence in flesh to lead Jesse across, has been transformed into a bridge. To me, there is no doubt that the fallen log represents the resurrection –this will also be missed and hotly contested by most Christians I’m sure, but the symbolism is there.

The final teaching then occurs – May Belle tries to cross and is unable because she doesn’t know the way yet. Then Jesse feels so guilty the dark master is upon him. Then we discover that the Dark Master has been Jesse’s father all along just as we have misunderstood the Old Testament "God" as our Father incorrectly, the New Testament Father is understood through Jesus. And now Jesse's father explains this through the final teachings. First he let’s Jesse know it is not his fault that Leslie has died, this act forgive Jesse and absolves him of his torment from the sin he believes he has committed. And second he tells Jesse that Leslie has given him something special that will always remain with him and that it is this gift that will always keep Leslie alive. At this point Jesse's own transformation is complete. Then Jesse launches the small raft down the river as a tribute to Leslie. Clearly this scene is not just cathartic for Jesse – it is the ascension of Christ into heaven. What’s left now is for Jesse to take up the ministry where Leslie left off and lead other’s to the Bridge and their own crossing over to God.

Jesus said, “No one gets to the father except through me”. Crossing the bridge requires a leap of faith; on the other side the transformation is complete. The bridge to Terabithia, or more specifically the Bridge, is Christ. Christ provides believers safe passage to the father, heaven, salvation, and your own Terabithia.

So you see this is not a sad story at all. It is the greatest story every told, simply retold. Christ died to save those who believe in him. Leslie’s death, therefore, had to occur in this story. It was inevitable in order for believers to know the truth. There must be a bridge. Without the death of Christ there would be no bridge, no path to the Father, no salvation, and in this case, without Leslie's death, no bridge and no crossing to Terabithia for believers. Again, Magnificent!