I have to reflect on the amazing experience of attending my 30-year high school reunion. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to attend. I was already booked to do a talk the following week in Maryland, and the logistics of flying out to Maryland and back twice in two weeks was beyond daunting. I had already responded that I wouldn’t be able to make it. Yet, it gnawed at me, in the back of my mind, for several days. So, I finally changed my mindset and put forth the intention that I would be there. The issue was that I had committed to teaching a college class and wasn’t sure how I could take off for 10 days. I looked for a sub and got one almost immediately. Problem solved. I rearranged some other meetings and obligations and arranged to conduct one of my meetings via phone conference. Problem solved. I got a bit of a hard time from my day gig about being gone for so long, but I worked it out, got tickets at half the usual rate I expected, found a cheap rental car for the 10 days, and even got a ride to the airport (something short of a miracle). Problems all solved.
I so looked forward to seeing everyone. I had no expectations other than wanting to hug on old friends and feel their presence for a while. What I got in return was so much more. The venue was gorgeous—club level of the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, where the Baltimore Ravens play. We had a great view and were able to go out and take photos with the backdrop of the empty stadium lit up at night.
I don’t think I’ve hugged so much, smiled or laughed so much, or felt so much truly mutual unconditional love and acceptance since I can even remember. My face hurt from smiling so much from my heart.
I have to confess that I had been feeling rather empty for years. I had overcome so many personal and professional hurdles and battles in the past decade and was working on making my ‘come-back.’ All of my friends in Vegas seemed to think I was doing just fine, yet I felt so empty and lonely for such a long time. The struggles had left me in survival mode for so long that I felt like I had forgotten to truly live. Sure, I would still go out with friends here and there, make the half-hearted attempt to date once in a while, and more recently made attempts at rekindling my love of playing piano, concerts, working out, and writing. I smiled and posted uplifting status updates on social media, but inside I just felt overall dead and completely disconnected from the world and anything that really mattered. All I could see in my future was continuing to work like a donkey until I died, resigned to be alone with my dogs or taking part in the surface relationships that seem rampant in the transient Las Vegas social world, with little time for fun. I wasn’t even having true fun when I tried and I was struggling to remember who I really am. All of my sentences began with how, “I used to…”
Perhaps, not surprisingly, I looked forward to that 30-year reunion for even a glimpse of my former spark and connection with actual humans. High school was a difficult time for me at home, with my crazy, abusive father and my clingy, constantly nagging, fearful mother; however, school was my escape. I loved my teachers, who were always there to lend an empathetic ear and offer words of encouragement. I certainly loved my friends and fellow students. I loved school. I could be free there. I could be me—crazy, non-stop talking, joking, laughing, and learning. It gave me hope that I would one day escape and be truly free to live. I don’t know that any of my friends knew what I was experiencing at home, but I found out later that many of them were experiencing similar circumstances. I found solace in their smiles, silly antics, and shared stories.
Here we were, 30 years later. Certainly, we’ve put on a few (or more) pounds, gained some life lines on our faces, grey whiskers, etc., but what struck me is that, looking into their eyes and smiles, I saw them as we were 30 years ago. It was as if not a single moment had passed. We didn’t need to share any accomplishments or milestones or try to one-up anyone. We just enjoyed being together. I drank up every moment of it and soaked in a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. Complete connectedness and love. That love came from what I was putting out there—the absolute feeling of love through seeing childhood friends being happy, healthy, joyous, and fully alive. I needed that experience more than anything. It fed my soul. I smiled from my heart for the very first time since I can remember in a very long time (over a decade). That is a gift I will never forget and that I’ll take with me in everything I do from here on out. I found my true smile again and I’m not letting it go. I will do whatever it takes to maintain that feeling and that connection.
So, what about you? Are fully plugged in and connected to your life and those in it? If you are, that’s awesome. Let me know what you do to stay plugged in. If not, then let’s take a look at what’s really going on and take some bold steps back to really living. I will keep you posted on my journey and I hope you’ll update me on yours.