It was a wonderful fiftieth Reunion — I thought I had missed mine when it coincided with my final retreat before being commissioned as an interfaith miinister in June, 2011. I realized when I had to give up that reunion from my college years that since I hadn't really had any close friends in college, it wouldn't be so terrible to miss that 50th reunion. But I'm so very glad we came to Grenoble to visit my friends from 50 years ago at the University of Nancy in eastern France. We had been a very close community of like-minded students — a wide variety of academic disciplines, including theology, various sciences, history, psychology, linguistics, but a shared love for traditional spiritual values, for social justice, and classical music. It was the latter that had drawn us together, as we had become acquainted as members of “The Little Choir of Nancy.” This was an ambitious community choir made up of university students. We practiced regularly and gave occasional concerts. We even, once, made a recording — a vinyl album, the musical medium of the early 60s.
There was a core group of choir members who were drawn to each other in friendship. We became a close extended family of choice, spending many weekends together on retreats or trips to places in the nearby countryside where we could be together, walk, and explore what was nearby. The group also, on weekends when we were not on special excursions, spent Saturdays regularly practicing rock climbing and rappelling in a quarry near Nancy. The goal was to make a weeklong trip on foot at high altitudes in the Alps, called “Le Tour du Mont Blanc.” This trip involved various adventures in glacier walking, rappelling, climbing rock faces — and we had all practiced assiduously until everyone was competent in all these skills, because such a hike was risky.
I was not able, despite practicing just as much as everyone else, to build the upper body strength necessary for the climbing and rappelling, and I had to forego participation in the 4 hardest and highest days of the trip. I spent the first two nights and the last one with the group, however, as a core member of it. My friends did not blame me or judge me for what I couldn't do, which I appreciated deeply.
Now, here we were together again, 50 years later. It was a joyful reunion, desired for decades. Friendship is amazing! How can people be good friends, then keep in touch by only the most fragile of links for 50 years — in this case annual holiday notes across worlds and languages — and then, after a lifetime apart, pick up again as if there had been no separation? I've experienced this previously. I know it happens. Still, we were brash, innocently optimistic, energetic 20-somethings — university students — back then. Now we are seasoned — even elderly (in our 70s and 80s) — grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. And yet it was as if we had spent our lives in ongoing contact. There was no unfamiliarity, no sense of distance or awkwardness. Instead, we felt connected still — loving, even. It was enough to make me feel comfortable with the idea that we had been together in different ways in different lifetimes, and indeed, within the perspective of eternity, this is just one of an infinite history of intertwined lives. We know each other that well.
Our reunion brought happiness to all our hearts, and when we had to leave again, we felt supported and connected more strongly than I would ever have believed possible.