Stories of people traveling back to an earlier time in their life makes for a decent movie plot. But it is not reality. If for some extraordinary reason that opportunity presented itself, I do not think returning to 7th grade would top my list. In fact, I seriously doubt it would make the top 10 on anyone’s list. Despite such automatic hesitancy I came as close as I ever will to returning to that formative time period in life last night.
A group of us that all entered 7th grade together at Jerstad Agerholm Junior High School in the fall of 1974 met for dinner last night a few miles from where we sat in class together nearly 40 years ago. We discussed mutual friends. We were saddened by the stark reminder that some of our classmates are deceased. We talked about our children. Many of them are well past that 7th grade milestone in their own lives. It was a great evening filled with laughter. But there were two topics of discussion of a more somber nature that stand out to me today.
It stood out to me that we all remember the special needs children that began 7th grade with us at Jerstad in 1974. Someone mentioned Bobby _________’s name. I have forgotten more names than I remember from junior high, but I remember his name. And I remember him as well. He struggled with some disabilities that caused him to stand out. I think there was a collective cringe among our group last night as we remembered the ridicule he suffered at the hands of cruel junior high kids. I found it compelling that every single person remembered him vividly. I was pleased to discover that all of us have grown in our capacity to feel compassion. And it occurred to me that one of the most important tasks of parenting is to impress the importance of empathy on our own children. If am the given the opportunity to speak to a group of middle school students in the near future, the title of my lesson will be: “Remembering Bobby.”
Secondly it stood out to me that all of us are either caring for aging parents or grieving the loss of our parents. We are truly a part of the sandwich generation. We still have children at home, and we also have parents to care for as well in many cases. I tried to listen attentively and kindly to a friend whose mother will soon be cared for by hospice in all likelihood. And I perked up as another friend fondly remembered the wise words her mother spoke at a birthday party years ago. Her mother has been deceased for several years. But I don’t think a day goes by that she does not miss her.
It is a good thing that we have grown in our capacity to feel and express compassion since 1974. Our children need us to imprint those lessons on their impressionable minds. And our aging parents need an extra dose of patience. Those of us that have already lost our parents view the grief of others in a much different light. We are better equipped to serve others.
Last night was a real treat. It is tempting to say that I felt like I had traveled back to 7th grade, but that is not true. The wonderful friends I spent time with last night are kind, engaging, and a lot of fun to be around! I don’t recall any of us possessing the first two of those qualities in 1974! (at least not to the degree that we do today)
The timing could not have been better either. My mother passed away on October 30th, 1991. Spending time with such wonderful friends that are sharing similar experiences made a day that is traditionally painful really good. We are there for each other. And I am confident that if Bobby ________ had been there last night he too would have been embraced and welcomed in the same spirit. Those are the two themes from last night that stand out. How could I be blessed with better friends? Now do I want to travel back to 7th grade? Never!