Is it too cliché to say that one must sometimes go away in order to see where they are?
I’m writing this on my flight back to San Antonio from my 25th college reunion at Creighton University. I’m exhausted and exhilarated and, to be honest, a little uneasy about returning home. The weekend gave me such an opportunity to reconnect not only with friends but also with my former “before-husband-and-children” self.
But, honestly, I almost didn’t go.
For at least two months before the reunion I had been rehearsing in my head the conversations that I would have with my college friends. In this constructed reality, I foresaw how each of my friends, after twenty-five years, had built these lives and careers that were filled with accomplishments and meaning. I whimpered to anyone who would listen how the past ten years of my life had been devoted mainly to family and specifically raising young children. While this, I reasoned, was not a waste of time, it surely wasn’t using those gifts that God had given me nor the university education that I had attained 25 years ago.
I believed that I did not have “enough” to go to the reunion. I truly thought that people would ask me what I’d been doing and I’d say something about raising my children and the conversation would stop and they’d turn to someone so much more interesting and accomplished.
But, everyone said I was crazy and that I should go. . .even if somewhere along the line I decided to hole up in the hotel room and watch movies. So, I went . . .and a funny thing happened.
My friends were there.
No, don’t snicker at me and my two month long pity party. I think that I was so worried about what everyone would think and/or say that I forgot: these were my friends. They were people who at a very formative time in my life saw my best and worse and everything in between. These were friends that I have had for nearly 30 years. Friends that I saw last month and friends that I hadn’t seen in at least a decade. And, after the initial greetings. . .it was like we had never really left campus.
We briefly talked about immediate and extended families and careers, but it wasn’t the conversation that had been playing in my head for the past months. These were more like formalities that we quickly got out of the way. “I’m a judge.” “I work for public radio.” “I’m a library director.” “I work for the local school district.” “I’m a professor.” “I work for the government.”
The labels of work were acknowledged and then discarded because it didn’t really matter. When we did delve deeper into where we were on life’s journey it was with honesty about the challenges of the work, the continued questions of calling, the struggles to balance it all with demands of family and sometimes even with ailing parents.
We caught up with each other’s lives. . .we asked each other about their opinions on politics and religion. . .we walked around Omaha and took goofy pictures. . .we went to Mass together and we celebrated what has now become–through the years—an increasingly small window of time of being together. We reengaged with those pieces of ourselves—our shared experiences and histories–that are often steam rolled by the demands of raising children and nurturing careers. In some sense we became undergraduates again, but with a better understanding of who we truly were at the core of our being.
The friend who had become a judge. . .this same person with whom I sat through history and political science classes. . .talked about his work as a calling to make people feel heard and respected. Above all—over any career success and financial rewards–he valued his wife and family and the friends around him. He was the same person from 25 years ago.
We also spent a lot of time, maybe the majority of it, laughing. We laughed loudly and with abandon as everyone had a story about the silly and stupid and overly dramatic things we did as undergraduates. We made fun of our graying hair and the fact that at nine o’clock we weren’t venturing out to the bars but heading back to the hotel.
These were not the conversations that I had played in my mind before the reunion.
The Gospel on Sunday, the last day of the reunion, was the parable about the landowner who paid all of his laborers the same amount of money regardless of how much they worked. As the story goes, those folks who worked a lot were angry when they saw that their pay was the same as those who were paid for a fraction of the time. If we put God in the place of the landowner, the story changes. God has given every person some gift in equal amount, but we tend to do exactly what the labors did in the parable and compare our gifts to other’s and we begin to envy and to want the exactly the same gifts in the same amount. We end up feeling like the gift we do have is actually not enough.
Father Don Doll, SJ, a world-renowned photographer, celebrated the Mass on Sunday morning. In his homily on the Gospel he quoted an NPR interview of the famous author, Gail Sheehy. The reporter asked Sheehy, don’t you have it all as a wife, a mother and a successful journalist. Sheehy replied,
“I don’t buy the phony expectation that we can have it all. You know, what I’ve come to understand is that I have enough. I have enough to give it away, by using my talent to write and speak, and hope that my experience excites others to be daring.”
During the homily, Kathy, my dear friend who listened patiently while I listed how things weren’t good enough, squeezed my leg. I whispered back, “You told him to give this homily, didn’t you?” She smiled and shook her head.
As we land, I mentally go through the weeks ahead and conclude I that I won’t have enough time. . .enough energy. . .enough sleep. But after this weekend I know that I have enough of those things that actually get us through life: family, friends, food. . .and faith. And I have enough of these things to go out my front door and make even a small, positive rock-in-the-puddle difference.
My mantra of “I have enough” won’t be a mantra of resignation but of celebration. I, in fact, do have enough.