Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Holding Back The Years

        It’s been said that you can’t go home again- that attempts to relive youthful memories always fail because time changes everything.  I used to think that too, but I was wrong.  Last weekend I returned home for my high school reunion, having missed every single one since graduation.  It was never intentional – life just got in the way.  A lot of years have slipped by and time has eroded memories, and I’m guilty of letting too many miles pass between hello’s, phone calls, texts, and emails, especially to many people who mattered 30+ years ago. 
In an instant the years fell away. 
For two days it was all about seeing old friends and missing those who couldn’t be there, catching up on the paths each of us had taken, sharing memories, and laughing about stories I’d forgotten (especially the ones that were horribly embarrassing).  As my friend Butch put it, we stopped being jocks, nerds, rah-rahs, and beauty queens and kings – instead we were just a group of old friends getting together again after too much time apart.  People say that you shouldn’t live your life looking in the rear view mirror and I’ve always believed that all that matters in life is what’s ahead.  But something has always pulled me back to high school, the friendships that were made there a long time ago, and the memories that still endure years later. 
I believe the friendships you make early in life are the ones you hold close – the same ones that can bring you home again.
            Those four years were a bittersweet period that few of us truly appreciated back then – a time of transition and change you could never wrap your hands around.  There were tears, fears, laughter, worries, heartache, and heartbreak twisted around classes, homework, and tests about subjects most of us had already forgotten by graduation.  Crushes, phone calls, and late night conversations with girls who saw you as a “friend” when you wanted desperately to be something more than that.  Football keg parties on Saturday nights, long classes spent watching the minutes fall slowly off the clock, and too many stupid, immature things that were said and done – the kind of things that still make you cringe years later (while hoping that God has a sense of humor about stuff like that).  Some of us even grew up a little.  Or grew up a lot.  You learned to love and you learned about hurt, and many of us forged relationships that remain strong years later.
            Over the past few months as the reunion took shape and many of us reconnected again, I loved how easily we all slipped back into comfortable grooves.  You spend so much time trying to get out of high school that you miss what you have beyond the classrooms and how special each friendship can be.  When we graduated we talked about the future as well as where we were going and how we would change the world, but last weekend it was nice to be reminded of where we started.  Age, or maybe maturity, has a way of making things clearer – at least the things that are still meaningful.
            When I drove home, I felt a familiar hurt – I wasn’t sure if it was nostalgia kicking my ass or the kind of sadness that comes from genuine, heartfelt good byes. 
Or maybe it was the realization that no matter how far you go or what you try to do, you can’t do any of it if you don’t remember where you came from.  And that no matter where you’re going, it’s the friends you have who make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Day In The Life

It feels like only yesterday, but it’s been eleven years since over 3,000 people died in the September 11th attacks after terrorists hijacked and crashed four planes into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.  For many of us here in America, it was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  A day none of us will ever forget.  A day that will remain burned in our memories forever.  A day when we lost more than loved ones, family members, friends, and neighbors – it was the day when we lost our innocence about terrorism.

Most Americans can vividly recall where they were when they heard or saw the news, and none of us will ever forget those images in the weeks and months that followed.   With the anniversary upon us, the news will again filled with stories detailing the horrors of that day.  Pictures and videos and news footage of the planes crashing into the Towers, fire fighters rushing into the buildings while others ran out, and the tireless work of First Responders from all walks of life digging through the rubble.

While my city was in ruins I was stranded 3471 miles across the Atlantic, concluding a relatively successful business trip in London.  For the life of me I can’t recall a single meaningful detail about the in's and out's of those meetings or what I did there – whatever importance and meaning any of it had disappeared that Tuesday.

But what I remember so vividly was that I wasn’t alone, even though I was by myself in a country that wasn’t my own.  From Grosvenor Square, where I signed a memorial book in the shadows of the US Embassy and wrapped myself in an American flag, to the streets of Kensington and Notting Hill where I wandered for hours, lost in thought and fears, Londoners embraced me as one of their own.  When people learned I was an American (I am from New Jersey after all, and although I don’t necessarily believe it, it has been said that in addition to our tough, edgy attitudes we own a distinctive accent when we speak), the outpouring of emotion from everyone I met was overwhelming.  I have never felt more welcomed by complete strangers, nor experienced that kind of friendship anywhere.  Strangers invited me into their homes.  Diners at adjoining tables in restaurants shared my pain.  People cried with me.  Londoners went out of their way to comfort me, grieve with me, laugh with me, and share stories over a few too many late night pints with me.  

In a city of strangers I was held with a ferocity of love I had never before experienced.

Over the past few years I’ve written stories about 9/11 and its impact on those of us who lost friends and people we knew.  Hardly a day passes that I don’t think about that day, friends who are no longer here, and what so many have sacrificed and lost since then.  That pain will last a lifetime.  But what I am always grateful for is the love from a city that embraced and loved me as one of its own.  For me, the healing began that week in London. 

London and its people will always own a piece of my heart.