Over a month since my last post and two weeks to the day I flew to a reunion with some of my favorite people in the world... But, how to begin to find the precise words to describe what I saw, felt and experienced so many years ago that, suddenly, came back as if stepping into a Marty McFly's Delorean. It was 1996 all over again, but with better looks. ;)
For a full recall of all the adventures, shenanigans and life-changing events of the 1996-98 "living out of a suitcase on a bus" tour of Life as Jess, see the first post titled "An extra suitcase packed just in case." And yes, there's a sequel. See, it's so meaningful and special, I had to keep writing about it.
The organization that gathered over 20 countries and introduced many of us to the world in order to go change it turned 50 and on a whim and thanks to wonderfully generous and loving friends, I said OK. I flew to the reunion and smiled from beginning to end-- CAVEAT-- there were the times when the smile was not so there, being under the weather and balancing the emotional roller-coaster. Nevertheless, every single part of my time with the people that I came to know and love almost 20 years ago felt the same: joyful.
Here's the thing... I think (I hope) everyone can relate to at least one thing, regardless of understanding or not what we experienced traveling with Up With People. We made life-long friends and traveled to many countries to learn and appreciate people and cultures. Hopefully, we all (you and me) have been blessed with those friends who touch our lives in ways we can't explain. We just know. Our hearts know and that's all the matters. How one person (or 20!) connect with you might be different than how that person connects with me, but if the connection is so strong, supportive, loving, challenging, yet loyal, it's yours to own and to protect. And, to celebrate.
That's what we did.. .My friends and I didn't go sight seeing, didn't spend a lot of money, could not care less about petty and unnecessary drama, (unless the drama was affecting us and then we became furious protectors!), we talked... We told stories, caught up on our lives, children, careers, gains and losses, relationships highs and lows. Deaths, births, depression, new beginnings. We laughed, we cried. We sang, we danced. Some of us actually got to meet in person for the first time after years of being "pen-pals." Again, joyful.
We celebrated our time together, our bus dates and host families and honored how each us individually contributed to the greater good... and that greater good, the organization that brought us together, we praised and pledged to support.
As we sat in the midst of 3,000 alumni gathered for this reunion's many evening performances, a reminder of lyrics that still haunt us, openly inviting to consider if race and ethnicity are the problem in society... "Does it really matter?" Does the color of our skin, the language that we speak, and the beliefs each of us grew up with matter when we are talking about peace, our communities, our children, humanity. Does it matter at all... And if it does, ask yourself what color is God's skin? Maybe you'll find the answer...
So, thank you, friends...you lift me up when I was down, you challenged me when I was complacent. You invited me to do the same with no judgement or hard-feelings. You invite me to join you in Italy for Spring break ---some day, Katia, some day!!! You make me laugh uncontrollably and you allow me to believe in you and your gifts and talents. I have experienced unconditional love and I am a better person for it.
May you all have the opportunity to NEVER EVER take for granted those who make your heart smile, even if you haven't seen them in twenty years, but somehow, the universe conspires (heheheheh!) to put them in your path. And, hey, if it takes you having an extra suitcase packed, just in case the universe knocks at your door, open the door and GO! When tomorrow comes, together, we'll be there...