Hugs Instead of Handshakes

Apologies for being a bit AWOL this weekend; I had a wonderful off-ice intrusion of real life: a remarkable gathering of high school brothers — we don’t call one another classmates, for reasons I’m about to detail — for our 25th reunion at our school campus in Bethesda this weekend. We had a guy fly into D.C. from Poland to attend. Another from Germany. Another from Puerto Rico. And guys from points far West, North and South, pretty much everywhere in the U.S.

We are partly brothers out of sheer size: there were just 94 of us who made it through all fours years of prep school. At that size, you do feel very much like family.

Like a lot of other high school classes, we have captains of industry among our ranks, and I like to think perhaps more than is typical. Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, is a member of our class of ’85. This Thursday he’s returning to campus to address the students and be at our school for the entire afternoon, and he’s bringing the World Series trophy with him.

More importantly, all my class brothers could wear a captain’s ‘C’ on a life sweater.

We didn’t have a hockey team when I went to school in the eighties. Now we do, and a good one. That makes me jealous. Then over the weekend I overheard talk of plans a few years back to build a rink on campus. Drawings were actually completed, but money fell short for construction. I may have to direct some energy and resources and try and breathe life back into that aim.

Our reunion this weekend was typical in many respects: lots of posing for lots of pictures, lots of smiling, lots of reminiscing about four years of prep school stress and outlandish pranks. We exchanged business cards, freshly busted one another’s balls, and polished off every keg tapped Friday and Saturday.

Reunion weekend at our school is perhaps a bit different than reunions at most schools. It’s no one-night affair but rather a series of gatherings beginning Friday afternoon for a big lacrosse game and lasting until bars in Bethesda gave us the boot at last call early Sunday morning. Once or twice Friday night a class brother, aware of my enthusiasm for hockey, provided me scoring updates from Verizon Center and game 5, but I confess, I had a Blackberry on me but never checked it for the Caps’ score. My business this weekend — the business of being a buddy again with my brothers — seemed so much more important.

One class brother, an orthopedic surgeon in Massachusetts, made a point of sharing with me photos he had on his Blackberry of his children skating in the rink he’d built in his backyard this past winter. Andy never followed hockey while in school, “but raising a family in Massachusetts, playing hockey is like breathing air,” he told me. I was insanely jealous of the love-labor Andy put into assembling his backyard rink: quality plywood for boards, reliably durable plastic liner for the ice. He invited me to come up and skate it next winter. I’m pretty sure I will.

In addition to this year being our 25th reunion we received exciting news this spring that one of our own had just accepted the post of Director of Institutional Advancement at our school. Basically, it was Larry’s job to repair a badly neglected and underdeveloped alumni relations environment, and of course raise money for our school. To his new job Larry very much brings the Energizer Bunny’s commitment and Dale Hunter’s passion, the result being, using email and social media extensively in very short order, Larry’s succeeding in getting guys to literally fly across oceans to be together this weekend.

We haven’t done the best job remaining in touch with one another over the years, we learned. There’s an obviousness to that, but in our class’s case, also an urgency in the matter. No fewer than four of our brothers over the past 25 years beat back harrowing cases of cancer. Four guys out of 94, and all younger than 40 at the time, getting cross-checked viciously by perhaps’ life’s most frightening disease. This weekend I heard accounts of brothers’ family members being told not to expect a good outcome for the stricken. I even heard the words “last rites” having been uttered.

For a while this weekend a number of us discussed how vulgar and statistically unbelievable such a volume of cancer cases was for our class, afflicting men so young. Then we arrived at a conviction that God simply wanted to demonstrate how special a class we were, and are. Now what do we do, we asked?

For my brothers this weekend was very much about victory in the biggest contest life can throw at you. Quite simply, we’re undefeated against cancer. If we thought we were special as a class at our 10-year reunion, imagine what we believe this morning. Best of all, we’ve set about reuniting for good, and marshaling our many talents, and our brotherhood, for bettering one another’s lives and that of our school going forward.

As deep on Saturday night brought about an emptying out of reunion on campus I noticed dozens of my brothers approaching one another for farewells, but instead of merely shaking hands in every instance we hugged. They’re at airports and Union Station this morning, returning to changed lives, and I miss them already.

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11 Responses to Hugs Instead of Handshakes

  1. angela says:

    This is beautiful. Truly a pleasure to read. Thank you, pucksandbooks.

  2. Liz(cozysoul/twitter says:

    On a rainy,Sunday morning, coming across this blog was a welcoming surprise.A very special read…not only touching the heart and mind through the mention of friendship and memories…but reminding us that some connections run deep.And maybe we don’t realize it at the time, but they will renew our appreciation of people and experiences for many years to come. Thank you….

  3. David Alison says:

    Very nice post. I love when good blogs occassionally go off topic like this on a personal level.

  4. Paul says:

    I know the school of which you speak, and I commend the bond among your classmates. I only hope you channel some of that energy in the betterment of young people, and to their impact on society. Your school has spent a truly shameful amount of money building luxurious athletic facilities that do nothing to develop the ability or character of young people, but merely feed the egos of the over-privileged. Please, please tell me I have this wrong, and that you spent anywhere near as much on scholarships as you did on your gold-plated athletic complex.

    Maybe the change in attitude on the Pike begins with your class?

  5. RAY IN BOWIE says:

    I’m going to congratulate you although I must point out that, as a near-lifetime (almost 40 years) member of the Gonzaga community with many GP friends, I knew Gonzaga, and Prep is no Gonzaga N.B.: Apologies to the late Lloyd Benson and to Dan Quayle, the latter of whomn wisely sent his son(s?) to Gonzaga. 🙂

  6. OvieTracker says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this pucksandbooks. What a lovely post, a beautiful story. You are truly blessed.

  7. WashCapsRock says:

    Wow – What a great article! You brought tears to my eyes.

  8. One of Four says:

    I sent this piece to my mother and she was moved to tears. As one of the “four” I considered myself blessed to be here today. When we roamed the grounds at school together, I know I never anticipated being diagnosed with cancer at age 35 . . . I’ve always said you can’t really appreciate life until you’ve almost had it taken away from you. Shaking hands with my cancer surviving brothers Friday evening I saw the same look in their eyes. Cancer changed me forever.

    This morning I sat next to my daughter and watched her get her First Holy Communion. At one point I welled up a little because I suddenly remembered my third round of chemo back in 2003, and not eating for six days, throwing up 5-6 times a day, dropping to 130 pounds (35 lbs below my normal weight), losing all my hair and not having the energy to do anything other than crawl on my hands and knees (standing required too much effort) to make it to the bathroom to throw up again. What I remembered though was not those awful memories, but rather the promise I made to myself that week that I’d live life more fully and savor the precious moments more if God would get me through that hellish week. And this weekend was the fulfillment of that promise – I had the opportunity to reunite with my brothers and watched my daughter go down the aisle and receive the body of Christ for the first time, no longer a little girl, but a young woman.

  9. William says:

    I know the school of which you speak, and I commend the bond among your classmates. I only hope you channel some of that energy in the betterment of young people, and to their impact on society. Your school has spent a truly shameful amount of money building luxurious athletic facilities that do nothing to develop the ability or character of young people, but merely feed the egos of the over-privileged. Please, please tell me I have this wrong, and that you spent anywhere near as much on scholarships as you did on your gold-plated athletic complex.

    Maybe the change in attitude on the Pike begins with your class?

  10. Joe says:

    Very cool post. If you end up at Andy’s rink in Mass, give me a shout. I’m just north of Mass in NH, and would love to host a little On Frozen Blog backyard rink tourney on our little slab.

  11. David says:

    What a great read. Thanks for sharing and I love your comment about More importantly, all my class brothers could wear a captain’s ‘C’ on a life sweater. We could use a lot more people like that.

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