by Sharon Simpson
Reunions; family reunions, highschool reunions, friendship reunions, neighbourhood reunions and work reunions. Ties we share bring meaning to our lives as we process what our life means and how we fit. We take stock of how things are and how things have changed. Reunions give us perspective as we remember the past with the fun and the challenges. Others bring their own memories, many times of events that we have completely forgotten. It is so interesting to hear another person tell the story of their experience from a time long ago.
I am from a huge family and so is my husband. When we put together our wedding invitation list 30 years ago, we had 150 cousins, aunts and uncles on the list. Both of us have a parent who is one of nine or ten. The small side of our families are parents who come from four or five siblings. Each of us has 30 cousins on just one side of our family. Huge numbers of people gathered together at an event are normal for us.
I have heard from my friends who come from smaller families that it is almost impossible to imagine the huge number of people who gather for these important family celebrations. I have also observed a depth of relationship and personal attention that doesn’t happen when there are 29 other grandchildren competing for the grandparents’ attention. For smaller families, the reunions are more intimate and can be more connected in a special and cherished way.
When a reunion is planned, everyone comes with their own expectations. There are those who come as competitors, seeking to discover who has achieved the most, done the most, gained the most. There are others who come as the underdog, forever remembering the ways they felt inferior among the larger gathered group. Some come with great expectation and excitement to re-connect with people whose lives are deeply meaningful to them. Still others are rallying all of their inner strength to be among the people who hurt, rejected, bullied or abused them. Reunions can be a mixed bag of emotions and outcomes.
The best reunions are the ones full of meaningful connections. These reunions are full of hugs, stories, laughs, singing and joy. There may be regret, forgiveness and re-connection. For many, the underlying knowledge leaving a great reunion is that they are loved, accepted and belong.
One of my elderly friends recently invited me to a very special reunion. It was a reunion with his former student, one whom he taught English in China. She came for a visit and the affection between them was evident from the outset. What joy and what love! I joined them for lunch and we chatted about how we understand the world. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to speak with a practicing Buddhist, who sees life through a Chinese Buddhist worldview. As we chatted, she explained that after death, a Buddhist believes there is a law, like a law of physics, directing their spirit back into another living being. Based on how enlightened they have become in their previous life, their spirit may be directed into an animal, insect or human being. I wondered out loud if there is a person of any sort who greets you on the other side of death and helps you with re-direction. No, she said, it’s more like a principle or law. No one.
This was such a contrast as I thought about how as Christians, we are waiting for the ‘great reunion’ after we pass away. We will be immediately conscious of the presence of Jesus Christ and the great love He has for us. There will be an immediate end to sadness, crying and pain. There will be more wonderful things to see than we have ever seen in our lives – and there is much assurance that we will recognize our loved ones in the same way that we recognize Jesus.
The most unexpected reunion that took place in my life happened a number of years ago at a board meeting in my new place of work. New to my role, the board invited me to a meet-and-greet to welcome me. When I entered the room, I saw a sea of unfamiliar faces. Each one warmly greeted me with their eyes and their smiles. I didn’t recognize a single person. After introducing myself and my life, the board members formed a line to say hello to me individually. One by one they told me of how they were connected to my mother, my father, my husband’s grandmother, my grandfather. I heard how they knew my uncles who died tragically in a tractor accident long before my birth. I learned that my father’s skilled surgical hands had cut them open, fixed their problem and sewed them back up. I met high school friends of my mother. One had served in church with my grandmother. Another entered Canada as a refugee and found refuge in my husband’s grandparent’s chicken coop. Every single stranger had a connection to my life. I was speechless. I felt embraced, accepted, known and welcomed.
I drove home from that gathering, weeping as I knew something very meaningful had just taken place. The Holy Spirit began speaking to my spirit. I began thinking about the ‘greatest reunion’ of all – the one where we will no longer be looking at a foggy mirror, the one where we will see clearly – face to face. What a hope! I thought about my brother to whom we said good-bye when he was only 20. I thought about my grandparents and my father. I thought about my uncles whom I have never met… and all of the people who invested their lives into my childhood – Sunday School teachers, Girls Club leaders, secret prayer partners, long-distance relatives. I was overwhelmed and joyful to think that there is a ‘great reunion’ promised. No more tears. No more pain. No more worries. A great cloud of witnesses will gather around us and we will reach out and touch the face of the one who made us. Face to face in all of His glory.
Sharon Simpson is the director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Home in Abbotsford, BC.