How time flies. And how we gain perspective.
Forty years ago I graduated from Billings West High School – one of the largest senior classes in Montana history. Over 750. Larger than a majority of towns throughout the state.
So many personalities.
Some classmates I had known extremely well since my days at Central Heights Elementary. More from Lewis and Clark Junior High. Even more in high school.
Sadly, I didn’t recognize 50 names or faces at all.
Over the years quiet students came out of their shells – gaining confidence they couldn’t have imagined as an awkward teenager. Those who seemed unapproachable proved to be open and engaging. Cliques faded away.
A common bond from a shared experience was evident – leaving me with a desire to know people better, if I only had time.
Thankfully, hundreds have given me perspective.
Couples who were items in junior high and high school are still going strong. But some grew apart and divorced. Surprisingly, three unlikely unions formed – still beautiful years later. While a number of popular people never married. Clearly independent.
Meanwhile, at least a dozen acquaintances seemed to disappear from the face of the earth. No one knowing much about them.
On the other hand, 70+ classmates had passed away – obviously way too young. A football player from a motorcycle accident. A long-time church friend to cancer. My Christmas formal date to ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Tragic too. A shy guy murdered. A police officer killed in the line of duty. One took his own life – perhaps more. And I suspect several lost their battle to AIDS.
Each with a real story to tell.
Without question, life is unpredictable. Oftentimes eventful. Sometimes not always kind.
Yet, so many testimonies to character and perseverance at the same time.
At least a dozen have raised biological children with special needs – or are still caring for them as young adults. Finding joy amid the ever-present hurdles in their lives.
Two classmates – actually friends for many years – have served on the Special Olympics Montana board of directors. Giving back, building empathy and leading the way for others.
Another two have lost children to suicide. Feverishly advocating ever since to prevent similar tragedies.
At least one lost a young child to disease. Openly sharing his journey, along with a family’s grief.
Many have cared or continue caring for elderly parents. Showing respect and putting their lives on hold until death.
And I adopted six children who introduced me to a host of behaviors that I never expected to see on a regular basis. Changing the course of my life forever.
Early childhood trauma is indeed very real and grossly misunderstood. The devastating effects don’t go away on their own. In fact, they worsen through the teen years in most cases – hopefully lessening by age 25 if parents remain involved.
I could have chosen to wallow in pity. I could have chosen to say “why me?” every day. I could have chosen to complain and vent incessantly, instead of modeling grace and humility. I could have chosen to grow bitter – eventually becoming clinically depressed.
But I resisted the temptation to go negative and stayed the course. Finding positives. Resetting expectations. Practicing self-care. Following my deep faith.
No regrets. Only opportunities to make a difference – relying upon the sense of community that I gained throughout my years of public schooling in a caring city.
After catching up with my classmates, I now have a deeper perspective about life.
No one is alone in his or her challenges.
They can lead us down a dark path.
Or they can bring out personal qualities that we didn’t know existed or took time to cultivate.
Never-ending patience. Unconditional Love. Lifetime commitment.
Receiving affirmation in unexpected, unfamiliar or unusual places is truly a gift. Offering the chance to reflect. Providing strength. Re-energizing commitment.
Make a difference. Pass that same human, natural support along to someone. Anyone. Every day.
Friends and strangers alike need it, more than you realize. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete & Advocate