A lot has happened in 30 years. Promotions, relocations; babies conceived and babies adopted. Two of the babies born with special needs. There’s been divorces, second marriages and second divorces. The babies grew up. Some flew the nest, a couple still remain. WE also grew older, and I’d I like to think a little wiser.
I’d not returned to Atlanta—for the purposes of gathering with former work colleagues—in three decades. The memorial service for the spouse of one our communications posse provided the impetus for us to gather family from Virginia and Tennessee and other regions of The Big Peach to reunite. Clever Joe dubbed it our “Big Chill” reunion weekend.
Past grievances, professional jealousies, and competitive spirit were existent only in memories. The ArtMobile clicked about 800 miles of crowded interstates and winding backroads through Southeast Tennessee, Alabama lake country, and alongside Georgia’s red clay and white pines. Grace rode shot gun, convinced half the time, as we sped toward Birmingham, that she was going to see her Daddy; and the other half, that we were headed to the beach.
I side tripped through memories of time. These were incredibly gifted, nationally recognized and award-winning writers and photographers. I was humbled then and am now to have worked alongside them. They patiently edited me into a better writer and it wasn’t until I entered my 30s that I finally found my chops. They were and are funny, smart, and lovers of good food. And long ago, they mastered the art of nurturing friendship through time, space, busyness, and change.
As I wound the byways through three small Georgia towns, I faced forgiveness. Yet the person I needed to forgive was myself for all the brash ways of the young whippersnapper I was in my 20s. The things I said. The attitudes I bore. The prescription, I deemed, was tossing the ancient-times regret and to forgive myself. Step one was realizing the need.
My time at the Baptist Home Mission Board, as fundamentalist conservatism increasingly laid claim of the denomination, was life changing: spiritually, politically, and in how I chose to be in this world. On assignment, note pad in hand, I was immersed in poverty for days or weeks. Appalachia, Ruby Ridge, the projects of New Orleans. The struggles of multi-generational ethnic families acculturating to American life in Chicago. The transitory life of migrant workers in Hope, Ark. And the missionaries and volunteers who gave their lives to serve them. They were stories that seared an indelible mark on my heart.
Today, raising my adult daughter with autism—one of the babies who hasn’t left the nest, and whose flight may take years to realize, with much struggle guaranteed for us both—I realize that I am living a story that I might of once reported. I am grateful for the stereotype- platitude-busting experience of working for seven years in various communications roles covering the true grit of real life alongside these professionals. Some of them, our elders, our former bosses, like the spouse of our colleague we memorialized this weekend, also have moved on from this plane.
My heart is full: gratitude for life learned then and life lived since. All of it. The difficult and the easy. For friendship spanning from then to now. And the chance to celebrate and honor Doyle and his wife—our colleague—Celeste. Immediately after the service, attendees feasted on ice cream complete with a buffet of toppings. Doyle’s favorite. And that, said Joe, was how he wanted to be memorialized. With a celebration of life. Complete with chocolate sauce, sprinkled nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
This weekend in Georgia, and the decade I spent there, will linger long on my mind.