A year ago, I was invited to my 25th High School Reunion. Like many other people, I wondered should I go? Would I feel awkward? Would I know anyone?
Like other educational institutions, this reunion at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, NJ was a combined event with other years as well. But there was something special about that particular year. It was celebrating the opening of a new science wing at the school, a new athletic training facility, some retirement news from faculty I knew, and also the celebration of one of the religion staff (my junior year teacher), who had just been ordained to the priesthood.
None of that was what ultimately made me decide to go. There were two main reasons. First, there was an installation of a memorial brick outside the school near the Theater entrance in remembrance of my deceased son, Joshua Emet, who would never have a chance to go to this wonderful all-boys academy. The other was the fact that his godfather, Ed, also an alum of this school, offered to come along as my “wing man.”
This year was my chance to return that favor, since it was now Ed’s 25th Reunion. This year we decided to bring the kids and this year I reached out to a classmate of Ed’s so that all of us could enjoy the day and make the most of our reunion time. All three of us had been part of the theater production company there, though I was more onstage, Ed was in the orchestra, and Joe worked the sound and lights. All three of us had children, but Joe was not able to bring his to the event this year.
I spent most of my time with Joe as this was his first time back to the school since the changes. He had worked in theater production at the community college down the road when he began college. He also came back to lend a hand at the theater while his younger brother was still involved. I was much more familiar with the layout of the new school having been there last year and also had a stronger memory of the old school layout as well. But for both of us, there was something well worth the trip when we entered Henderson Theater. We walked about marveling at some of the added space, some of the changed spaces, and the spaces that had still remained the same. But nothing was as special as the two of us walking out of the left stage wing onto center stage to look out at the house seats and up to the sound and lighting booth…except perhaps also walking backstage to see the collection of flats and set pieces in various configurations. This was pure gold for us!
For a time, we had left Ed alone with the kids. Joe asked out of consideration if that was OK. I had somewhat flippantly responded that Ed took care of children for a living (he is an occupational therapist specializing in newborns and infants), so he is acutely aware of children’s needs and parental presence. But the truth was, the two kids were his and I was only sticking him with my kid, who I assume was well behaved. And I had left her with a two-way radio to keep me up to speed.
So in the end, I have my memories with Joe and the pictures we took and Ed got all the pictures of the kids riding the rides, playing the games, eating the foods. We did get back together to take one last "curtain call" at the end of the event, which included time for the kids to play piano and "perform" onstage while we talked to the new director, and a "victory lap" in the sprint barn.
Prior to that, Ed, Joe and I did get to have a moment to sit in the Beer Garden for adults while the kids ran around. After Ed and Joe caught up on their back stories, Ed posed a basic question, “Did your educational experience here at CBA prepare you in any way for your life now?” We each affirmed how important and vital this experience had been, even in the face of sitting there not really knowing who most of these other people were. And as we each took turns telling our tales, Ed stopped the conversation again and made an observation: “It seems each of us got involved in Christian service.”
Joe works with the poorest of the poor making sure that they have access to affordable medical care. There is a huge bureaucratic element to that and a lot of paperwork. But he paused and said that he had never thought of it that way, but it was true. I also shared that my parish work also involved walking the fine line between the necessary paperwork involved with religious education or sacramental celebrations which can get in the way of developing personal relationships in which we experience the presence of God.
There is much to take in as gift for a quiet reunion in the farmlands of NJ not too far from NYC and the Jersey Shore. The following day, I took my daughter into Manhattan after going to mass at a sparsely-attended church near the Staten Island Ferry. This was a locale decimated by Hurricane Sandy as well as a place in full view of the Freedom Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. In fact, we were on our way to visit the Freedom Tower before going home. There are so many memories about those events, inclusive of how many CBA alum, including Ed and myself, were affected by it.
So much to say and cram into such a small space in time, knowing that my daughter is too young to fully take in what those two deep reflecting pools where the towers once stood were all about, or the gravity of the tired, poor, and huddled masses "yearning to breathe free". How many lives had now been changed over time? But then there is Ed’s question and observation: Our lives have been changed and we have each been molded to service and ministry.
There is also another reminder: the church my daughter and I attended had a banner for St. John Baptiste de La Salle (the founder of the Christian Brothers order) in the church. I pointed it out to my daughter and taught her the prayer we would say in high school at the start of each class of the day:
Let us remember we are in the holy PRESENCE of God.
St. John Baptiste de La Salle…PRAY FOR US.
Live Jesus in our hearts…FOREVER!”
25 years is a long time to make some sense out of the patterns of one’s life.
In your own life, what has mattered to you over time?
What has that drawn you and molded you to become? Whom do you serve?
© Copyright 2015 Jay Cuasay
Photography: CBA Logo & Brick, Jay Cuasay, June 2015. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
Jay Cuasay is a freelance writer on religion, interfaith relations, and culture. A post-Vatican II Catholic father with a Jewish spouse, he is deeply influenced by Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism. He was a regular columnist on Catholicism for examiner.com and a moderator and contributor to several groups on LinkedIn. His LTEs on film and Jewish Catholic relations have been published in America and Commonweal. Jay ministered to English and Spanish families at a Franciscan parish for 13 years. He can be reached at TribePlatypus.com.