“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Last night, I went to my thirtieth high school reunion. I think there were about 23 or 24 of us classmates there, along with many spouses.
We talk about the beauty of youth, and I know the fact of that because I spend my days with teenagers. I heard somewhere once that someone had somewhat scientifically determined that we reach the pinnacle of our physical beauty around age 30, and I can understand that, too. But for well-polished and gracefully-tempered beauty, sit in a room of people just about to enter their second half-century. I am trying to define the essence of it this morning: there’s grace in the faces, self-acceptance, a movement beyond the scrabbling and striving of earlier years. The intervening years since we graduated have brought terrible pain to some of us, great joys, power and powerlessness, anxiety and fulfillment, and the stories and conversation last night were carried on a stream of grace that echoed in people’s voices and showed in their eyes. People seemed to have moved into themselves. They are beautiful in ways that make our high school selves look raw and unpolished, our young adult selves look over-polished and grasping. These people were shining and grace-filled, and in a way that admitted of the harsh realities that we have experienced on our way here.
Gathered in that room, I know, were people of all political stripes. Many of us sit firmly on one side or the other in the debates that are threatening to shatter our church. But last night, we were one thing, one group, together sharing our stories. Some stories got deeper, but many of us told the basic details. Still, the regular tales of children and grandchildren born and growing up, of jobs and farms and hobbies–all took on deep significance. There was an acceptance and a sense of belonging in that room, where many of us have become near-strangers over the past 30 years.
A moment of laughter appeared in the room. Giggles and chuckles. Then, as understanding dawned, a second wave, and a third. And the laughter itself became a conversation. Meaning was there, and levels and layers of meaning that went beyond the initial words that sparked the laughter. Something holy happened in the laughter. Did it last for five minutes or for twenty?
I feel shy and awkward with small-talk conversations with people I don’t know well. Often I can push my way through and into small chat, but I never quite know how to navigate a room. How long do we talk? What about the awkward pauses? Is it my turn to start the next piece of conversation? It’s always easier for me when the conversation gets going on its own track, and I lose awareness of the way into the conversation, when mutual curiosity draws us together and lends energy to the forward movement of our talking. In mingle-settings where there are lots of people, I also get a sense of wanting to connect with everyone, so I struggle to get into deeper conversation because there are too many people to connect with. I get overwhelmed. So the thing that I look forward to in reunions and gatherings is the group sharing. Even though it isn’t intimate, and we each package our story into the short five-minute moment we are allotted, we all focus, for those moments, on the one person speaking. We hear story together, and for a moment, we are a re-gathered community.
1. Middle age
2. Reunions and conversation
3. The language of laughter
4. The gravity-loosening power of music
May we walk in Beauty!