Saturday, May 25, 2019

From Graduates to Grandparents

It has been a very long time; 40 years. And yet four decades seems to have sped by in an instant. Memories had somehow been compressed and stored in the archive function of my brain. Recall was the problem.  Without the name-tags, facial recognition left me stammering, trying to identify the elderly person holding out his or her hand in greeting. Once identified, by furtive glances at name-tags, my classmates and I launched into storytelling and exchanges of status reports.  As I moved about the room from small group to small group, each person took awkward small sips from their wine glasses.  The 40th reunion scene reminded me of hummingbirds hovering momentarily, probing newly-opened blossoms and then moving on

Careers had come and gone in the past four decades. “Retired” had been added to the biography of many. A whole generation has grown up, and in the process made many of us grandparents. The graduates of 1979 UBC Law School were as diverse bunch, at least in terms of personality and background. The career paths of those in attendance stretched across the gamut from well-heeled executives, who had never practiced law, to retired judges. There were politicians of every stripe and practitioners of every calling. A curious and incongruent crowd of older folk, so disparate in their views and appearance that an observant stranger would not have easily identified what they all had in common.

Admittedly, I attended this event with some trepidation. The legal profession rewards confident men and women who show no sign of weakness or vulnerability. It was no secret that I had Parkinson’s disease.  There was no effective disguising its symptoms. But, scanning the list of those of our class who had passed on, I realized it was a privilege just to be in attendance.

Why do we hold reunions? Sure, there are those who are simply curious and attend in order to extract the latest news, the juicy bits, just to be “in the know”.

Perhaps to others, the reunion was a sort of  a tontine, or death pool, where the last person alive “wins” and we attended to record the fact that we were still contending for the prize.

But I think there is something more benevolent in play.  Those years in law school were formative.  Not just because of the legal principles we learned together, but there was a recognition, if somewhat ill-defined, that our relationships with one another were important. Despite how different from each other, we survived the crucible of those 3 years together. Despite the competition, there was a genuine interest in each other, and even a recognition of the need for mutual encouragement.

Life, like law school, and Parkinson’s, is best lived by taking the risk of sharing the experience with others.  Otherwise, the challenges can easily drive us to retreat, giving into the fear of rejection and misunderstanding.

Driving home from last night’s reunion I thought of those of my classmates who did not join us, and I wondered why they had stayed away. Could it be they did not want to be judged or compared to others?  It may take some courage, but whether it is attending a reunion of old classmates or getting together with others who struggle with PD, the benefits of taking the risk far outweigh the certainty of loneliness.   

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