Save the Last Dance For Me
This weekend, the 35th Class Reunion of St. Nicholas of Tolentine’s class of ‘75 was held in the Renaissance Hotel in Harrison, New York. Months of planning went into the event; done by a core group of individuals whose sole motivation was to gather everyone together to rekindle the good times of our youth.
St. Nicholas of Tolentine was a parish community hosting both a grammar and high school educational program. For some, Tolentine was all they knew; attending both elementary and high school there. For others, such as me and my two closest friends, Tolentine was the next step in our educational pursuit. We each had our own reasons for attending. In fact, I did not graduate from the school. My association with Tolentine lasted only two years – a lifetime ago. Yet, it is the umbrella under which the memories of my youth reside.
A website was created early on to encourage former students to reconnect. One by one, alumni were tracked down, listing e-mail addresses, demographics and event schedules. Much time, effort and planning was done by one individual in particular, who demonstrated his ability to plan, manage and attend to detail on every level. Other details such as phone calls to long lost alumni, printing, logistics, etc., were done by volunteers who stepped up as a need was uncovered that they could fill. Everyone joined in the effort as they saw fit and the momentum increased as the days counted down to the event.
April 24th finally arrived. Although the start time for the reunion itself was publicized as 7:00 pm, several people arrived as early as noon that day to soak up the camaraderie and excitement as well as pitch in to help with some last minute preparations. As that core group increased in size, phone calls, text messages and e-mails began circulating throughout the class community until the buzz was all but deafening.
My own arrival was later in the day. The group of three had been split- two and one; the one arriving at the hotel quite early, availing herself of a meet and greet with others who jumped the starting gun. The facility contained a pool, a spa, a lounge; creating the element of a resort atmosphere. My party of two arrived just after 5:00 pm. As we walked luggage in tow behind, the sounds of party goers grew louder as we drew nearer to the elevator. “I recognize these folks,” someone said pointing in our direction. “Oh my God!” At once, we were in the midst of our first reunion encounter, meeting those we had been in touch with through the use of facebook and e-mail. The elevator doors opened and instantly the party began!
George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I don’t know that to be entirely true. But I can say that in my own case, youth was certainly taken for granted – as were those people I encountered at that time. We went to school every day – begrudgingly. In reality, school was tolerable because of those people I was acquainted with while I was in school. They were the wallpaper of my life back then. I assumed they would each be in class every day and the park every afternoon. The expectation was that these people would be there; fixtures in my life – forever. It is only later in life that we realize how untrue that is.
The conversation was so electric that the meet and greet scheduled for one hour lasted more than two. Valiant attempts by the wait staff failed to entice the guests to enter the buffet line to serve them dinner. Rather, the ballroom was alive with banter, stories of yester year and laughter. As more intimate conversations surfaced, knowledge of the accomplishments of alumni, their spouses, and children emerged.
For some of us, it has been 35 years since we last saw each other. Some look exactly the same. Others have experienced physical changes; graying hair, physical ailments. In some instances, I would meet someone and for one moment, be lost as to who they were. Others, it is merely a matter of making eye contact and you just know who they are – regardless of the physical changes – regardless of the years.
It is a very surreal environment to be in: reunited with those with whom you spent your youth. The last time I had seen these people, I was a child myself. Now, we have children of our own, mortgages, careers. In fact, some of our children have children. That magic that we had tightly in our grasp some 35 years ago had eluded us, until tonight. Now, together again, we take each other back to those days of carefree dancing, singing along with the music and the wonderment of childhood: free of responsibility.
Dancing went on consistently throughout the evening with small conversations scattered about the room. Pictures were taken overzealously by everyone with a camera or phone. It appeared we had been reincarnated into 55 Japanese tourists the way flashbulbs were sparking throughout the room! This time, we all knew what we had. There were hugs, smiles, holding hands and rekindling the feelings we had of friendship.
Adolescence is a difficult time for most. It is a time when you feel uncertain of who you are, what you are to be and what will be expected of you. The pressures of the unknown can be overwhelming. The one solace that can be found is in the eyes and arms of your friends; if for no other reason than they are experiencing the same uncertainty. You are all in it together – even if you don’t know what “it” is. At one time or another, we have each managed to hold another up and help them make it through what was felt to be the most trying day in our lives. Childhood friends are more than acquaintances. They are peas from the same pod; birds of a feather. At our most desperate hours, with our back seemingly against the wall, just as we were about to surrender to the world and give up did we realize that it was not a wall that our backs were against, but rather our friends supporting us – keeping us upright. In the spirit of those memories; the foundation that we all are together, for all of our lives, was captured in a most poignant photo. Two old buddies, left on the dance floor when a slow song came on. Neither left. Instead, they just grabbed each others hand and held on, as they did in youth – for one more dance.
To all those who attended (and those we missed), you were my life – back when I took life for granted. We share memories of pain, angst and fear – and somehow, managed to become adults in spite of circumstances, in spite of our families, and yes, in spite of ourselves. Forever, when I see any one of you, I will again become that kid with her whole life ahead of her – and we will laugh together. I pray it is not 35 years from now when that happens again.