The power of reunions
by Sharon Simpson
What makes a reunion so meaningful? As we age, we work in different environments, meet more people, have more family and live in a variety of places. This all brings more opportunities for reunions. School reunions, work reunions, family reunions, church reunions. If we’ve moved from place to place, we have different lives in each town with different sets of people who became meaningful to us in our lives.
I love the television show, Hello:Good-bye that interviews people at the airport. Many of the people are expecting a reunion with a special person in their life. You see them hug each other and often, they are crying as they are reunited. Why are they crying? Tears of gratitude that the traveller is safe; tears of joy at being present with their loved one; tears of sorrow over time separated. The television show captures the raw emotion at the time of reuniting and sparks within the viewer an emotional memory of a similar time in their own life.
For elderly seniors, reunions are especially meaningful. As they gather together, memories are triggered and stories are re-told. If you haven’t seen someone for a long time, you may have complimentary stories of the time you knew each other and leave with a richer understanding of what life was like in those days past. In this season of their lives, seniors are no longer trying to impress each other with their careers, houses or achievements. Seniors are who they are. This can bring about a real freedom at a reunion gathering. There is no need for pretense, no need to impress. Instead, it’s an opportunity to genuinely enjoy the shared memories of times past.
Have you thought of a funeral as a reunion? A very special kind of coming together happens at each funeral you attend. People who loved that individual are brought together from all dimensions of their life and the coffee time that follows can be a rich time of re-connection. As you gather at these milestone events, take the time to harvest the richness of re-connection. Seek out the people whom you haven’t seen for a long time. Re-connect and be authentic as you listen and recall another time in your life. There are opportunities for fond recollections, for renewed understanding of events and for additional information that may help you to process how life was for you during those times past.
As odd as it may seem, living on a campus of care in a small community can bring you into the living space with many people from your past. For some, this has been delightful. I recall one dinner where it was discovered that a resident was the tutor of another resident’s child. Their connection was up north more than fifty years ago. And yet, here they were, sitting together at a dinner. The child who was tutored was bright and unfocused. The tutor was strict. The experience was recalled as “challenging” for everyone involved. At the telling of the story, the tutor found out for the first time that the young student had grown up to receive his doctorate in chemistry and had a very fulfilling career in research! What joy filled the face of the tutor as she heard the outcome of a challenging student’s life.
What about difficult reunions? There are people who have hurt and been hurt in ways that cut to the core of the person. This may not be the kind of reunion that we relish. It can, however, be a time of great healing.
In my first week in my new job at Menno Place, I was walking through an apartment foyer and immediately recognized a senior from the church where I grew up. I didn’t remember his name and he didn’t remember mine. “You’re a Dueck, aren’t you?” he asked, referring to my maiden name. “Yes,” I said.
“You were baptized by immersion, weren’t you?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, knowing where this was heading. I was the first request for immersion baptism in a church where adult sprinkling was the practice. The congregation voted on it and it was by a narrow margin that it passed. The baptism took place in another city and caused some tension as there were strong opinions expressed about what was the right way to baptize.
I waited to hear what he would say about that time in our shared past.
“I voted against you,” he said. “That’s ok, it was a long time ago,” I said, somewhat dismissively.
“I’m glad that I can see you here.” He carried on, “I want to say that I’m sorry. I should not have voted against you. You wanted to be baptized and that was your heart. I wish I would have seen it that way back then.”
I offered him my appreciation of his words, my forgivness and shared that I held nothing against him. I was looking forward to renewing our friendship. I then found out he was in his late 90’s. This reunion was important for both of us, but even more so for him. He was holding a regret in his heart and God gave him the opportunity to be free. Me too. Although I rarely thought about that time in my life, I had an underlying feeling that the church community that raised me didn’t support me in my faith journey. That skewed belief shifted at this special reunion with a senior who dared to speak his heart.
As we think of reuniting with those we love, there is no greater hope than the knowledge that the ultimate reunion will take place after death for those who believe. We will immediately be reunited with our Saviour – “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8).
Our bodies will be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15) and we will be with Jesus. We will recognize him. As we recognize Jesus, it follows that we will recognize our loved ones as well.
And that will be the greatest reunion of all – the reconnecting of our life with the lives of those whom we grieve. The joy of connecting fully with our Saviour, Jesus, who has guided us through our days, whose word has been a lamp to our feet, whose Spirit has prayed for us when we no longer had words, who knew us before He created us and knit us together in our mother’s womb. What a reunion!
Sharon Simpson is the Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place in Abbotsford. www.MennoPlace.ca