“I am a part of all that I have met.”
So said Ulysses (Tennyson) talking about the experiences of his long life. I’m sure he meant to include people as well as places. Ulysses should have been with me last Saturday night. Then he would have known the truth of his words.
If Honduras is the murder capital of the world, as it’s being portrayed these days, then certainly Newfoundland is the reunion capital of the universe. We have reunions coming out of our sweat glands. I think I’ve written more beautiful lines than that. But you know what I’m trying to say.
And they’re all beautiful and meaningful to those who are a part of them. The spouses who are hauled off to these things hardly knowing a soul because it’s not their reunion, stifle yawns and try to look interested as strange men and women wrap their arms around their partners and don’t seem to want to let go.
Last weekend I was at the 50th anniversary of Gander Collegiate. For three years of my very young life I was vice-principal of that wonderful school and made friends that have enriched my life beyond anything I can say.
Perhaps because it was one of my primary duties to maintain discipline in the school, I was convinced that most students detested my entrails. But they went out of their way last week to assure me that wasn’t so, and reinforced that sentiment with hugs and kisses. Some of the girls said they thought I was OK, too.
There’s more hugging and kissing going on at those things than in a convention of happy contortionists. I’m told there wasn’t a bottle of hair dye to be found within a hundred-mile radius of Gander. I was also assured in a sort of conspiratorial whisper that Cialis and Viagra were also in short supply. It all makes for a happy reunion.
In all seriousness, I was overwhelmed by the feelings of affection that came from so many of these people. I tried very hard in my job to help them in whatever way I considered appropriate, but I didn’t think most of them were aware of that. In Gander, many of them let me know in no uncertain terms that they did know, and were grateful.
I tell you this for a reason, and it’s not to blow my own horn. I like to talk about life lessons, and here’s the one I learned at Gander. Many of us work with young people, not just as teachers per se but as Scout and Guide leaders, Sunday school teachers, mentors of one kind and another, Big Brothers and Sisters and a host of similar relationships. So very often after giving years of dedicated time and talent to kids, I know you wonder if you had any effect on them at all.
For the rest of your life you’re praying, Lord, I hope I influenced some of them for the good. I know one woman who had a tremendous impact on the lives of the young women with whom she interacted, and who still says many years later that she probably had no influence on them whatsoever.
Unfortunately, most of you will never be in the envious position I was and receive such positive reinforcement as I did. But the chances are great that you have touched the lives of many who knew you, and in ways you will never know.
Let me tell you about a couple of special people who were at the Gander Collegiate reunion. Each person there was special, of course, but I’ll highlight two of them. Something along the lines of “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.”
On our way into the stadium I stopped to say hello to a group of men about to go inside. One fellow had one of those large Tom Selleck moustaches across his face. I was pretty sure he hadn’t worn one of those back in my day so I tried to see his name on his card. He said it just as I saw it and I couldn’t believe either.
A few years ago, I got an email one day which began something like this: “I’m lying in a hole in the ground with war raging all around us, so just thought I’d say hello to you.” I remembered him immediately from a Grade 9 class, a very quiet and likable young fellow. What the heck was he doing fighting a war in Iraq?
But that’s where he was, and he thought of me.
Or perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to know someone like this beautiful lady. I was injured in January of 1998. In the 16 years since that time a young woman who was in high school when I was vice-principal has sent me a lovely card each and every month with the same message — “thinking of you.” I know she goes to the gift shop every month and carefully selects something she thinks will make me smile.
Usually it does. Sometimes I swallow hard to think of someone being that faithful just because I used to listen to her when she was upset. Today she has a half-decent looking husband and two great kids. I just hope she has a small idea of what she has done for me. Thank you, love.
Sometimes I regret a little that I didn’t set out in life to make money and not have to worry about dollars and cents in our retirement years. But then suddenly at times like these I realize how rich I have become because of the beautiful young people I met along the way and who have become part of who I am.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.