A bright red postcard told the tale: Mark your calendars for a very special event. The Sturgeon Bay High School Class of 1976 30th Class Reunion. Plans were listed for a family picnic, a golf outing, an evening with dinner and dancing and an ecumenical worship service. Arriving well in advance of the mid-summer dates listed, there would be plenty of time to jockey personal schedules into the summer-stocked limited availability of lodging on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. The postcard arrived weeks ago, but the actual graduation happened thirty years ago today. Having not attended any of the clockwork-consistent reunions staged by my former classmates every five years since we graduated, I am fascinated by all the stories we each have to tell about our own lives. They may not be especially dramatic or unusual, but most of our stories began at a shared time and place that we each still carry with us.
We started kindergarten in September 1963. Between the common ritual beginning our education and our return to classes for sixth grade in the fall of 1969, President Kennedy, his brother, Robert and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be killed, human beings would stand on the moon and the Vietnam War, and rallies against its continuation, would escalate to the point of nightly inclusion in Walter Cronkite’s news reports. By the time this turning point called our high school graduation rolled around we had already seen the United States live through one of its most turbulent periods. For us it was simply when we grew up.
Where we grew up informed our lives as well. While bitter cold and a thick layer of snow and ice covered Wisconsin most of the winter, the summers were just shy of being the Garden of Eden. As a child you learned early not to complain about the weather, and to appreciate the beauty around you while you had it. The extraordinary and the ordinary meshed easily and simply to create our world.
But after that day, our individual lives emerged and our paths diverged. The few times I bumped into former classmates in the years immediately after graduation, I learned that we didn’t really know each other all that well. Having grown up together in a very small town only meant that we had mostly absorbed the community perception of each other. Familiarity has been known to breed contempt, but it can also inspire an interpersonal lethargy, a thick layer of social numbness that keeps the social order in place without too many jolts and jostles. As a child who craved the expansiveness of a bigger, deeper world, I moved on to graduate school and other parts of the country, then visited other parts of the world I had only imagined as a little girl. When I read the online edition of the Door County Advocate, the local paper, I caught glimpses of the people who stayed and made Sturgeon Bay their adult home. Once in awhile I have romantic notions about living there again. But there is no longer home, only where I am from.
The Bible speaks about people of faith who stayed put in their ancestral homes, but also shares the stories of wanderers whose home is left far behind them, except in their memories. The Gospel of Luke draws to a close the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem with their safe return to Nazareth. “When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of the Lord was upon him (Luke2:39-40).” Jesus set out on his own journey years later, and after his temptation in the wilderness also returned to Nazareth. Unlike his parents, Jesus wasn’t meant to settle back into the rhythms of small town life. After he read from the prophet Isaiah at the synagogue, his hometown wanted nothing more to do with him. “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff (Luke 4:29).” Not everyone gets such a send off into the world, but for many there is that sense that their future lies elsewhere and they must reach for it.
We each have our own story to live and our own faith journey to follow. What is so interesting to me is how each community we are a part of still exists as how we remember it, but also ebbs and lows with the tides of time to become much larger and deeper than anything we could possibly remember or imagine. There is a part of me that is curious about what it has been like for the people who stayed and have witnessed all the changes and growth that have occurred there over the years. What is that like? But I also am curious as to whether the people who stayed wonder what it would have been like to move out and on, and to see if another place in the world would be as satisfying to them.
Reunions, whether you attend them or not, are about a different sort of fellowship, one of memory and hope, and the realities of the decisions that shape our lives with subtle force over time. Standing on this side of thirty years of living, that shaping feels quite good. I hope my classmates feel the same way.