Its always right before graduation that I look out onto the sea of faces and make those last judgments of who will make it, and who I will see at Homecoming years from now. Homecoming at our school isn’t like other schools; its slow-moving, painful, and unnatural. I can’t think of a disease right now that adequately describes it, but sufficed to say, it is not contagious, its passed on through heredity. Those who graduate from our school and succeed in their ministry, keep going. They might get called back to speak in a chapel, regardless of what they said about the school after they left. As long as they’re alumni, we’ll always ask them back so we can show how great of our students can go on to be, even if they still say it was the dark period of their life. Or if you have money. I forgot about that: If you have money, then you come back to check on your investment in the school. Those who graduate and fail in their ministry need a place to return though, so we came up with homecoming. In a very sad way, the alumni who went into the mission field thinking that they were on a righteous campaign for Christ and end up broken and desperate come back to be revitalized. I guess they want to know that there is still a place that will have them. So that is the nature of homecoming. Its a class reunion where everyone never made it big.
To the student currently attending, homecoming is a inconvenience. Okay, I’ll admit, its also an inconvenience for me, so I’m not exactly unbiased here, but I don’t believe I ever claimed to be. Homecoming is nice because the cafeteria puts their best foot forward and serves real food, AND real NICE food. This is great and all, except for the line of Alumni who tend to clog up the cafeteria like a heart attack inducing plaque in a coronary artery.
When I was a student, one of my goals was to never come back for homecoming. I wanted to go out and succeed, and never be forced to look back. If I did return, it would be because I had become the rich pharisee and sold out my ideals, or because I had failed in my ministry and lost them. The funny thing is now, I am here for every homecoming, so what does that say about me?
It was Spring. Finals were nearly over. Graduation had come. Paul, Mary, and Maggie stood together now, at the end of a long journey that seemed no more than short glimpses of real life. What had happened to them? Who were they? These were the questions that filled their minds. At the end of all this learning and soul-searching, did they still have any idea of what they really believed? Was it all their own ideas, or just scrounging off of others? Had they ever really grown up? Or were they still children, destined to seek to be more mature, but never actually reaching it, whatever “it” is? These were not the questions that you say out loud though. These are doubts and regrets and uncertainties, and though universally accepted, never shared.
“So when are you two getting married?” Maggie asked.
Mary answered, “32 days from now. We didn’t want to do it right after graduation, but also, the sooner the better.”
Paul chimed in, “I start my job as an associate Pastor as soon as we get back from the honeymoon, and Mary is going to be helping in the Youth Ministry department, working with the high school students.”
Mary: “Its the closest thing to being a teacher I could be without, you know, actually being at a school.”
Paul: It’s not a whole lot of money, but we will be able to afford a house and a car, so we could settle down and work for a while. I don’t think we plan on going anywhere any time soon after that.”
Maggie: “That sounds fantastic. High schoolers? I always assumed you were an Elementary Ed. person.”
“I was.” Mary replied. “I don’t know exactly when I realized it though, but I felt the Lord calling me to help with kids of that age, like us before we came to college. There are things they need to know, and I feel that I have some things to tell them. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous, because its sort of the exact opposite. I have made to many mistakes as to not plant myself as a warning sign, letting others know that someone is there, and has been where they have been, or better yet, just help them avoid the same sins.”
Maggie nodded knowingly. “I think I get it.”
Mary reached out a hand and took hold of Maggie’s. “What about you?”
Paul: “Yeah, we haven’t heard at all what you are going to be doing.”
“I don’t know exactly.” She replied. “I couldn’t find a job really. so for now I assume that I’ll just settle working at some fast food joint, or something like that. Whatever it takes to pay the rent in this world, so i can stay here and love people, even if that means flipping burgers or making burritos.”
“Well, that sounds like a short term plan.” Paul interjected. “I glad for you, but you need to think ahead about these things, like where can God use you the most?”
Mary just hugged her friend.
“I get it.” She said. And with that she left.
Paul and Maggie were left standing in awkward silence, alone, facing one another.
“Paul, I actually have something for you. Its a letter.”
He laughed. “A letter for me? From you?”
“No.” She shook her head. “From Stephen.”
His face dropped. He didn’t say anything. She pulled out a small white envelope and handed it to him.
“It came in the mail yesterday.”
Paul took it silence. Maggie left after that.
Then it was just him; Him and Stephen. It had been years, and now he was opening this part of his life again. Paul pulled the letter out and read.
Its been far too long since we last spoke. I just wanted to say a few things that I should have said. First: Will you forgive me? I know tha-
Paul stopped reading there. He closed his hands together, crushing the paper into a ball, and dropped it onto the ground. And he left.