Head of the Class


It is that time of the year when high schools and colleges invite their alumni to gather again to reminisce about days gone by and to catch up with old friends.  For some, the arrival of an invitation to a class reunion is met with fond memories, anticipation, and joy.  For others, it is met with unpleasant memories, dread, and regret.  Still for others, the invitation is met with bittersweet memories and conflicted feelings, as they try to decide whether or not to embark on a trip down memory lane.  This morning, I had the pleasure of spending some time with someone who falls into that last category.

Twice during 2012, I needed to fill in as the case manager for 18 men in one of our day shelter’s permanent supportive housing programs until we hired a new case manager.  During those times, I was able to get to know this special group of men even better, and while I welcomed the newest case manager, there was part of me that would miss working with the men in this temporary role.  I still see them, just not as often.  So, when one of the men asked if I could accompany his case manager on his home visit today, because he missed me, I readily accepted the invitation.

It was warm, sunny morning, so, I walked the short distance from the day shelter to his apartment, and my smile broadened when he answered the door.  This particular gentleman has a life-threatening health condition, and when he entered our program last year, I feared that he would not be with us very long.  Just as he has countless times in his life, though, has defied the odds, and today, he appeared to be in both good health and good spirits and is preparing to celebrate his first year in our housing program.  When his case manager arrived, the three of us sat in his living room to talk about his progress, goals, and any current issues or challenges he was currently facing.  It was during this conversation that he brought up a concern that may surprise some people.  He was wrestling with the decision about whether or not he wanted to go to his college reunion.

Yes, this man is a college graduate who had been homeless for the over 10 years, following the tragic death of his spouse.  While some of his classmates have stayed in touch with him and, therefore, know his story, others do not.  The thought of being asked by fellow classmates, “So, what have you been doing since graduation?” triggered his shame, embarrassment, guilt, and regret regarding his years spent camping out in the woods, instead of having a home in the suburbs.  He compared himself to others in his class who had gone on to become doctors and lawyers, and he deemed himself to be unsuccessful.   As he, his case manager, and I talked about the invitation and addressed his concerns, I kept looking at him.  All I could see before me was a success story.

This man has faced emotional and physical challenges that most of us could not have endured, much less come back from to rebuild our lives, and through it all, he has maintained his sweet disposition, strong spirit, and sense of humor.  He maintains his housing, follows through with all of his medical appointments, abides by the guidelines of the housing program and his lease, etc., and he recently started taking an art class at a local university, where he is discovering his artistic talent and was invited out after class by a group of students half his age.  I have seen him at some of his lowest lows and at some of his highest highs, and he is one of the few men from the day shelter who know that I, too, have dealt with depression and anxiety.  In some ways, we are kindred spirits, but truth be told, he is one of the men I look up to actually.  He may not a doctor or a lawyer, but he is a survivor in the truest sense of the word.  That sounds pretty successful to me.

That’s another story . . .

Categories: That's Another Story

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4 replies

  1. love your blog … this was very inspirational … honestly I can see why he would consider not going I didn’t go to one of my reunions for similar reasons.

    • Thank you, Toni! Like you, I completely understand his hesitation, and I hope that if he decides to attend the reunion that his classmates see him for the wonderful person he is, rather than judging him by his past circumstances.

      Two years ago, I was in the midst of a horrible bout of anxiety and depression and chose not to attend my high school reunion, which was the first one I missed. I had said I was coming and backed out shortly before the event, and I decided to be honest about why I could not attend. Much to my relief, my classmates offered me a great deal of love, support, and empathy, and they became some of my greatest supporters. I hope he receives similar support, as he deserves it.

  2. Wow, powerful post! People can be so unkind, I can understand his reluctance in not going to the reunion. My heart goes out to him!

    • I absolutely understand his hesitation, and I hope that if he does attend the reunion that his classmates are welcoming, supportive, and understanding. He has an incredible story, and everyone could learn a lot from him indeed.

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