Last summer as my husband and I met my fellow alumni at Diary Queen to kick off the weekend of my 40th reunion, I told someone that when I was in high school I thought “the world was going to hell in a handbasket”. Afterward, I was kind of sorry I made that statement without having time to explain it.
So what did I mean that night at Dairy Queen? I meant that I turned out to be so very wrong! Although I already realized I had been wrong, I see it so clearly now in the happy, generous faces and the caring, responsible lives of my former classmates.
While I blamed the adults, not my fellow classmates - back in my youth, when I thought we were all pretty bad - nevertheless, I looked at all the trouble around me and thought we were all pretty much done for. Not that I thought it out in those words.
That attitude landed me in a super-strict, isolationist cult straight out of high school. No, we didn’t drink poisoned kool-aid, and you’ve probably never heard of it, but it existed, just as surely as I changed my name (although I like my current name, so we gotta’ respect it, even though I don’t expect those who knew me in my youth to use it).
Sure, some of my classmates drank, smoked, cussed, all things I thought were “bad”, because I’d been taught not to do them, and I listened, being a people pleaser and not wanting to deal with my Dad’s “Why did you do it?” Sure, some of my classmates played around; some got pregnant out of wedlock (a bigger deal socially in those days); and a few did things they later regretted. But I always knew I was no better than any of them, because I had been abused as a child (not by my own family - just an FYI) -- and I thought for years that it was my own fault. After my experience with the cult, I knew for sure that I was no better because, at the time I joined the cult, I treated my own parents poorly. I figured you couldn’t get much worse than treating your parents badly.
But here’s what I learned over the years. Life is not all about following the letter of the law in every minute particular, nor is it about what we’ve done in the past, however wild or wooly. It’s about where we are now and maybe where we are going. Many of the saints had wild and wooly youths. On top of that, even the saints did not always agree about what were the best things to be doing on this earth. And the saints in heaven are not saints because they never sinned, never had any faults, or never did anything they regretted. They are saints because they practiced virtue to an extraordinary degree…because they loved greatly.
And that is what I see in the lives of my former classmates. They are so full of love…love for their families, love for their fellow human beings in general, and love for their classmates, some of whom have kept in touch with one another a lot over the years.
I see my classmates spending themselves, caring sacrificially for a spouse or child who is ill. I see them surviving after a difficult death of a loved one, so they can be there for others. I see them respectfully helping people with disabilities. I see them going to jobs that help others...or going to jobs they don't like but going nonetheless. I see them dealing with tremendous heartaches of various kinds and still thinking of others. I see the love - the giving, caring love - and I am in awe! I am proud to be a part of this class.
Not everyone in the world is good...or at least, they aren't always doing good things, doing good to others. But there are so very many good people. Praise God, when I was in high school, I was so very wrong about one thing. The world may be filled with strife and hurt, but as long as we have so many loving people in the world, the world will never “go to hell in a handbasket”, because love comes from heaven.