When Leslie made good on a long-ago promise, she didn’t expect to make a ‘new’ friendor to be given an unexpected gift…

We had promised—a few decades earlier, during our rousing “vote-for-me-to-be-your-class-officer” speeches—to “be there” for our fellow classmates when the time came to plan our reunions. And now that time had come.

High school officers turned attorneys and executives hopped on weekly conference calls to make arrangements: Special seating at the Homecoming football game. A tour of the old high school. A party on the floor of the famed “Spinning Wheels” skating rink where we had danced the Hokey Pokey on wheels at the end of so many nights. A Facebook Group where we invited our graduating class of 550 former students to engage, share stories and photos, and shake the trees to get as many people as possible to join us.

That page took on a life of its own. Friends reconnected and memories spilled out. Posts showed up with pics of hand-me-down cars we used to drive on the local “strip.” Elementary school class photos, scanned and uploaded, confirmed that many of us had known each other for most of our lives (and had lots of memories together).

As the page administrator, I had the privilege of helping to provide the space and place for conversations, interactions, and connections. Bonus: I was the recipient of a great well of gratitude. There was so much love on that page. We were witness to what friends named “beautiful,” “healing,” “sweet,” “hysterical,” and “fun” encounters—in ways we never would have expected. As former students opened up about their vulnerabilities, long-carried wounds began to heal. Tender places started mending. Fractures from high school hallways were restored.

There was no sense of who the Rockers, Jocks, Nerds, Popular Kids were. (OK, we remembered . . . but it really had no bearing on the current conversation.) We recalled funny stories and friends no longer with us. We shared—in most cases, likely for the first time—how one of our classmates encouraged us, made us laugh, or held our hand during a dark season. These days we seem more comfortable in our own skins. Willing to point out where we were vulnerable then…and where we may be even now.

We were there during so many of each other’s firsts: Our first presentation on the cafeteria stage. Our first win. Our first loss. Our first kiss. Our first heartbreak. And now, years later, we were caring for each other. Offering to pick up someone who felt afraid to come alone and bring them to the reunion so they could go together. All were greeted with warmth and kindness, even those who didn’t make the journey because of too much disappointment.

I think I posted no less than five photos of myself from my high school days. No matter what the setting or circumstance may have been (prom, school club photos, hanging out with friends) I wore fake tortoise-shell, plastic hair combs—one on each side of my head, just above my ears. In. Every. Single. Photo.

Apparently I was very fond of them.

I started pointing out my affinity for hair combs, a bit mockingly maybe—but kept it lighthearted. I was hoping to provide reassurance to others who had the courage to reveal their anxiety, whether it was about showing up to the reunion alone after their divorce, or weighing more than they would like. Or with less hair. Or with discouragement that their life had turned in a direction they weren’t expecting.

Through the months of Facebook conversation, I made new friends—like Cathy. Her face may have been familiar, but we hadn’t talked much, if at all, back in high school. Yet on this page we laughed together. She reached out with kindness and affirmation, welcoming everyone to the table.

The reunion weekend finally arrived, and it was a blast! As the evening wound down at Spinning Wheels, Cathy pulled me aside. I was so happy to “meet” her in person, hug her, and thank her for her online generosity of spirit. Then she did an incredible thing: She shared her recent journey of grief in the wake of her mother’s death just a few years before. She still felt the freshness of the loss and was making her way through. She mentioned my hair comb posts and that she had a gift for me, if it didn’t seem too awkward.

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Into my hands she placed a glittery pair of the most beautiful crystal hair combs—her mom’s. She said her daughters had tried to wear them, but they didn’t stay put. In her own hair, the combs didn’t show up the way she remembered they had in her mom’s, whose dark strands (with streaks of silver) were the color of mine. She wanted me to have them.

There, on the wooden floor of a re-purposed skating rink, I felt like the Prom Queen I never was in high school, with an even sweeter “crown.”

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