Bittersweet Thanksgiving

We grew up.

All of those kids I went to high school with. Not just high school; my family never moved, so I started in with them in kindergarten and went through to graduation. Part of me never felt like I fit in. Being the only Mormon in my class may have had something to do with that. Not that many new people moved into our little town, although many of us have since moved away. How many, I’m not sure, as I’m one of the ones who left.

But every once in awhile, I get a glimpse into the lives of those people who were once children that I knew as a child. They’ve all grown up. They have kids of their own who they haul around to ball games and dance recitals and piano practice, just like we went to when we knew each other, just like I do with my kids now.

They have jobs. Several of my friends became teachers. Some are pastors. Some are coaches or directors. They have houses and cars and pets. When did we all get so old?

The best part is seeing how much faith they have, how these irreverent high school kids grew into people of devotion. The girls married the guys who got them pregnant in high school? Still married and raising their kids right. If they went to church then, they go to church now.

I remember being horrified when I learned a friend got pregnant and not knowing what to say. It was shameful, right? Her life would be over, her choices destroyed by this hormone-fueled impulsive decision. But for most of my friends, that’s not the way it happened. Yeah, that was hard, but now the only real difference is that their kids are a couple of years older than my kids. Not everyone’s life has turned out smoothly, and I suppose if you looked closely enough, you’d see that no one’s life matched their juvenile expectations. Not even mine.

My friends have trials now. One couple, they were dating while we were in high school, fooling around during rehearsals, pregnant before graduation. They’ve been married for years now. They have kids. And he has cancer. Their church has rallied around them. There is an online prayer circle for them, where she posts updates on his condition and prognosis and always, always, her faith in the power of prayer and reliance on God. These people believe more deeply and fervently than I can even imagine. This is no intellectual exercise or theological posturing; this is real reliance on God. This is a true and desperate devotion.

How did the profane grow into the profound? And how could I have looked down on their options and ambitions, wrapped as I was in the For the Strength of Youth standards and looking to escape that small town?

I am so sorry, my friends. My choices worked out well for me, but I ought never have thought they made me better than you (which I never consciously allowed myself to articulate, but we all knew that when I acted like I was too good for you, it was because on some level I thought I was too good for you). I was wrong, and I am sorry. I am bursting with love and pride for you when I see how you have grown into yourselves, made good lives and good families. It was all so unimaginable when we were kids and knew each other then. We live in different worlds now, but from the online glimpses I get into your lives, I think that we would be friends if we met again, and better than before because we all have a better sense of who we are. We’re not posturing and pretending and struggling into an identity as we were then.

Today I got word that my friend who has cancer is now in hospice care. After weeks of updates of setbacks, and pleas for prayers, he is in hospice care. And my heart is breaking for the clever, funny boy I knew in high school, for the beautiful girl he loved and married, and for the strong and broken people they’ve grown into since then. They’ve been together since before we graduated in 1999, and that’s not nearly enough time.

So here’s my Thanksgiving post: I’m thankful I knew them then, and that I’m able to know them again, at a distance now. I’m thankful I’ve lived long enough to regret thinking I was right. And I’m so thankful to learn that I was wrong to think that my faith, my religion, was the only answer that could lead to a good live or give solace in the face of death, when I knew nothing about any of it. Because their faith in God is their only comfort now for this bittersweet Thanksgiving. God knows, they need it.

10 comments for “Bittersweet Thanksgiving

  1. It truly is a bittersweet life.

    We are all on a path to the grave.

    But our Lord Jesus loves fresh dirt. He loves to pull people out of those graves and bring them unto Himself for an eternal life with no tears, no pain, only joy and peace and thanksgiving…every day.

    I’ll pray for comfort and God’s peace to you and your friend’s family.

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