There are reunion people and non-reunion people and I am one of the former. The invitation arrives and, almost immediately, I add my name to the list of attendees. I returned for my 30th class reunion last weekend, like I have done every five years, not only to see my former classmates, but also to revisit the painful and tragic memory of one friend, in particular. She is the reason I think I will never miss a gathering. For her, in memoriam, I can only offer tears.
We were members of a post-graduate program that was large, 750-people large, and far away from our hometowns. It took us southerners just about one week to find each other. We created a social island, several dozen strong, where it felt like home – Atlanta or Austin – instead of the banks of the Charles River.
Shortly, though, we emerged from our safe cocoon, making friends with people from, quite literally, all over the world. We worked hard, the two years ended, and we graduated. My friend moved back to the South and I, to Manhattan. She married a fellow classmate and they had two children. We became “Christmas Card” friends. When traveling to New York, she would sometimes call and meet me for lunch.
Gradually, those trips became less frequent.
I learned that she and her husband separated. The cards stopped coming.
The next time I heard news about her it was devastating. She and her young children had died. At her hand.
I work hard not to think of her at the end. Instead, I see her as we were in school – smiling, laughing, charming us with funny stories. Artistic and creative, she often carried her camera, ready to record what she wanted to remember. She was fashionable, but her style was natural, not contrived or showy. She was generous and gracious and her friendship, genuine.
I did not know the woman whose violent actions shattered so many lives.
When someone you believe you know, and think well of, is at the center of the most horrible act you can imagine, the pieces don’t come together. There is no making sense of an incomprehensible action.
Fifteen years after her death, I am still shocked, confused and deeply saddened. We all struggle with the fact that we didn’t know or couldn’t help. I don’t have the language to say anything meaningful to her former husband. His loss is the greatest of all.
At the Memorial Service for our 22 deceased classmates, there were tears shed for each person, all too young, some passing away just a few years after we graduated. A program left on each chair included tributes from classmates, honoring each one. The person who wrote about our friend found words of candor and deep compassion. I don’t know how he did it but I am grateful to him.
In the program there are headshots, the passport size photos we were required to send with our deposits shortly after we were accepted into the school. Most of us were around 25, and these pictures were taken a few months before we began our first class. Our futures had not even started.
We assembled in the pristine campus chapel. It is simple and intimate with seating for just 100. Seemingly lit with only the natural morning light, prisms in the skylights created a spectrum of color splashed on the pale wall, above the pianist’s head.
Five years ago the school chaplain, a Baptist minister, led the service. This time, a Rabbi gave us her thoughts on how Being is a Blessing. The piano selections, including Prelude: Grief and Sorrow, were masterful and the music helped me focus, allowing me to follow each step in the program, trying to contain my sadness.
A reading, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, followed.
The Rabbi concluded with a poem We Were Good to Life, offering hope at the end:
Let it not be said
That life was good to us,
But, rather we were good to life.