Through a series of peculiar events, I was volunteered to reach out to my former classmates for our high school reunion. I would have had more success knocking on their doors, selling Amway or a premium cable TV service … if I could find their doors.
Many of them had moved or didn’t answer the phone so I left voice messages, with little luck. Even the guy who was the best man at my wedding didn’t return my call. How humiliating is that?
Actually, I’ve always envied people who made friendships in high school that lasted forever. Mine sort of withered on the vine, and we drifted apart.
I took another fellow to lunch and pleaded with him to come to the reunion but he said no. Pleading isn’t beneath me. I plead with my wife and daughters all the time and get the same results, so why should I be surprised?
High school reunions scare some people, who want to forget the awkward period of life known as adolescence. Others don’t want to remember teenage years marred by the Vietnam War and social upheaval so tumultuous that modern America seems like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood by comparison.
For a brief fleeting moment in high school, we’re thrown together in a swirling vortex of emotions and hormones. We think we have all the answers but we have none.
When I went to the alumni office, they handed me a list of classmates who had died, and I was overcome with sadness. In my mind, I still thought of them as teenagers, and teenagers always think they’re immortal. There was the fellow who helped me struggle through four years of Latin and survive with a B-. And the fellow who excelled in academics and became a prominent attorney. And the guy who left his trade as an electrician to write poetry and music. (I had been in his wedding.)
And then, there was my friend Frank, who died at Hospice eight years go the day after Christmas. His obituary said he served in Vietnam and graduated from St Joseph’s College in Indiana before going to work as a financial system manager at GE. Throughout his life, he volunteered with United Way and Bridgeport Hospital, where he logged more than 500 hours of service.
His obituary went on to offer this telling detail: “Frank has been a friend of Bill W. for more than 20 years and helped establish local meetings and groups. He was an active leader in the Matt Talbot Group 10 and assisted with the group’s spiritual retreats.”
That one paragraph taught me more about him than four years of high school. Frank, you see, belonged to the same fellowship as my father. It’s known as the most exclusive “club” in the world because you pay with your life to become a member. Their mutual friend was Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. I grew up in an alcoholic home. There were beatings, there was humiliation, there was pain. But as an adult, I learned that if you cling to those memories, you’ll never be able to forgive, and if you can’t forgive, your life will be tormented by anger, regret and resentment.
After years of drinking, my father was a physical and spiritual wreck. Then, as he said, his Higher Power intervened. He admitted he was powerless over alcohol and his life had become unmanageable. Another alcoholic reached out his hand, and a day at a time, my father got sober. He didn’t pick up a drink for the last 25 years of his life.
My four daughters never saw their grandfather drunk. To them, he was the greatest guy in the world, who told jokes, bought them candy, built birdhouses and grew tomatoes. He was the greatest guy … as long as he didn’t pick up that first drink.
I didn’t know Frank in recovery. The Frank I knew was a soft-spoken teenager who liked to play golf and was quick with a humorous wisecrack. Back then, I never had an inkling he was destined for a life of humble service, bringing others back from their personal hell of alcoholism.
God bless you Frank. And thank you, Frank … for my father and the hundreds of others who helped in sobriety.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.