Photo: Thiago Matos via Pexels
“Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got…So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts. So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date…Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye.” – (1988) The Living Years, Recorded by: Mike and the Mechanics. Written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson
The hallway was busy between classes that day. The platform shoes were loud on the polished hard floor like horses on a brick street. Everyone was running to their next classroom before the final bell rang. I, in my bell-bottoms and bell sleeves, was coming out of the choral department rehearsal hall after an a cappella session. My steps were already inside the broad hallway, but had yet to fully walk through the threshold as my hand remained on the thick heavy wooden door. That’s when I looked up and saw her. It was Lori Kennedy high stepping it toward the choir-room door from B-Hall. She was running a tad late to get to her place on the rehearsal risers just inside the entrance for Women’s Select Choir. It was a Friday, game-day at our north Dallas suburban high school of 3,500 students. I recall it was a Friday because Lori was decked-out in her Lionette drill team outfit from a pep-rally earlier the same morning. As she approached the doorway, I quickly made my way through the entrance while holding the door open for her. By the time she was within two, or three steps from me, her dark brown eyes pierced mine as she sternly stated, “I can open my own door!” as she swiftly rushed by me. OUCH! That was unexpected. It wasn’t like me to freeze, but I did due to shock. It was best because it also kept my mouth shut.
Lori Kennedy, 1978 R.L. Turner High School Yearbook.
Lori and I were 16 at the time, in 1976. She was about five weeks older than your’s truly. Our social circles overlapped, so we had mutual friends, but the two of us were mere acquaintances. In fact, I don’t think we ever had a conversation before that uncomfortable moment. It’s not that we avoided one another, or even ignored the other purposefully while within earshot. We both certainly knew about the other, but distantly. From time to time, over four years, we even dated our close shared friends, but never one another. There were multiple occasions where we hitched a ride with other friends while stuffed in a 1973 Chevy Camaro. We were on the same bus during our music concert tours with the choral department’s Spring trip each year. We also found ourselves sharing a bus for choral UIL contests performed in other cities. Then there were gatherings at picnics, parties, and popular hangouts, etc. I should stop here because as I write this I’m remembering many more circumstances where Lori and I shared space through high school. We, for what ever reason, never made the effort to get to know each other. One might say, we knew each other through our fellow classmates.
With all that said, it makes her stark, rude remark, (the first words she ever spoke to me), that much more odd. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her. Possibly life at home had hit a wall. Could she had slipped on a banana peel in the cafeteria line? Maybe there was a social undertow of knowing we didn’t see eye-to-eye on life itself.
One thing is for concrete sure, she didn’t know my mom and granddad taught me how to treat the opposite sex going back to my toddler years. Chivalry was the order of the day in my family. I must have been three years old, when walking down the sidewalk with my mom and grandparents, my granddad gently instructed me to always walk closest to the curb when walking next to a lady. When I asked why, in his rural Texas fashion and verbiage, he explained that if a tire splashes a muddy puddle onto the walkway, she will be spared from the splatter. He followed it up with, “That’s what men do.” He taught me to remove my hat if a lady enters the room. If a lady walks by, you tip the brim of the hat. If a lady is about to sit at a table, you pull the chair out for her, followed by the adjustment to table-side. If the lady is ready to remove her coat or sweater, you help remove it from her shoulders. When she is ready to wear the same, you hold it open for her as she slips her arms through. You always allow the lady to walk in front, choosing second place. You always open the car door for a lady before placing yourself in the car. And yes, you always open the door for a lady as she approaches it. In fact, I do that for men, as well as women. To be honest, I still practice all of the above to this day. It’s an act of courtesy, kindness, respect, and honor. I’m branded with it. So, what was up with Lori?
At the time, the women’s liberation movement was well above surging, at least in the U.S. It would be foolish to believe that 100% of women living-out the movement appreciated chivalry with its old Victorian manners. Because I neglected to get to know Lori, the real Lori, I may have missed my cue. It very well may have been Lori was exercising her newly discovered rules of engagement as dictated by the women’s liberation movement of the times. I would have been clueless. Nevertheless, she may have very well been offended by my gesture of holding the door open for her entrance into the choir room. Sure, I meant well, but she may have seen my action in another angle, unbeknownst to me. Just like one can peek through a glass of water while another may see a different distorted view. And here is where I went wrong.
My mind washed my hands of her as I walked away from the moment of friction. Lori Kennedy and I never had a potential conversation throughout the balance of our school years together. Never once. In fact, I totally avoided her. My misdirected thoughts went something like, “Well, if she’s going to treat me like a doormat, than I don’t have any use for her.” This is what unchecked anger can do. And so, in my bitterness over the incident, I made sure I ignored her each time our paths crossed, wherever it was. And what’s worse, I allowed our very quick moment in 1976 to stain my view of her from that time forth. Afterwards, the name Lori Kennedy was held in my grudge-peppered heart. My new title for her was, Little Miss Rudeness. Yes, it was wrong. Very wrong.
One would think in adulthood, with all its twists, turns, and teachings, I would’ve eventually understood better, loved more, and forgave even if I never saw her again in life. However, we did. God had other plans.
Lori Kennedy at a 2018 casual reunion with old friends.
A year ago, I attended two reunions with old friends and classmates. One was a casual gathering of about 200 as we paid tribute to a friend who had passed away the year prior. Two months later, it was our 40th high school reunion. Lori Kennedy and I bumped into each other at both events. During the first reunion, I saw her before see saw me. My first thought was to stay away from her, using my old searing angst as justification. With so many people attending, it would’ve been easy to just remain on the other side of the large club. Two months later, the 40th high school reunion gala would be upon us where most likely we would find ourselves in close proximity with mutual friends. Deep inside, I hated the tensity felt over seeing her again. Getting lost in the crowd was my first thought.
August 2018 at the casual reunion at the Fox & Hound Pub in Dallas.
Someone called out to her through the noisy event. With a turn, my eyes caught her. There she was, laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying a cluster of old friends. My reaction was to look away to protect the sore spot in my psyche. After looking down at my shoes for way too long, I filled my lungs with lots of air, slapped on my big boy pants, and made my way across the room of revelers.
She had changed so much since our teen years. Age hadn’t been particularly polite to her. Lori always lived fast and hard, so I just assumed it all caught up with her. She was a bit pale and thin, and the spark in her dark eyes had faded. Name tags are a gift from God in these cases, but not at this casual gathering. Often, at our age, it’s guesswork. I acted as if I wasn’t sure it was her. “Lori? Is that you?” She turned toward me, cocked her head and smiled. “Alan! Well, as I live and breathe! How are you?” I initiated a quick shoulder-hug. (Still showing signs of my grudge in a tiny gesture. I know, it’s all so stupid.) We spoke very kindly for another couple of minutes. After all, there’s not much to “catch-up on” when you didn’t really have a relationship to start with. I found out she lived alone with her two beloved Chihuahuas. Still, it was somewhat a relief to see her genuine greeting. Surprisingly cordial with a true smile, we shared good words between us. Simultaneously, there was this voice coming from deep inside me delivering a statement I never would’ve believed. It was so clear. Despite our differences, we could have been friends. Part of me began to feel ashamed what I had secretly held against her over the decades. Of course, I never brought up our one and only verbal encounter from the days of yore. Actually, she may not even recall the day she was snarky to me, the “doorman” from early in our junior year. Frankly, the thought had never occurred to me. Just because I always remembered it, shelving her as a tyrant and a princess prude forever, doesn’t necessarily mean she remembered our game-day intersect whatsoever.
Monday morning, October 7th, I got in my car, turned on the radio to my favorite classic rock station, and there it was, Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”. It was the tripwire to heavy tears as I left my driveway for an hour’s drive to Lori Kennedy’s funeral.
After doing some digging, I discovered Lori was told by her doctor how early tests indicated she had Multiple Myeloma. This form of blood cancer wasn’t new to me. A church friend has been battling it for two years, as well as my brother-in-law, who is in the final stages of this life-sucking illness. An MRI had found a mysterious spot on her pelvic bone a couple of years prior. At that time tests were inconclusive. Apparently, Lori shrugged it off. She had been told most Multiple Myeloma patients have 3-5 years after diagnosis, maybe less. She was looking forward to her first oncologist appointment to confirm, plus discuss various treatments. That was during the last week of September. She passed away in her sleep at home less than a week later. After the very touching service I spoke with her parents. They told me she had been suffering from symptoms for at least 2-3 years, but had no idea she had been stricken with cancer until a few days ago.
Before the minister spoke, they played Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven. As it washed over the the ones gathered, I bowed my head and listened intently for the first time.
“…Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please…”
My hands trembled as I realized my judging heart. Deeply convicted, I acknowledged my stupidity in not letting go of one moment in time of offense. At my age, how could I have remained so immature? When we engaged last year, I was unaware she was in severe pain throughout her skeletal structure. As we stood there and chatted at the reunion, I was unaware Lori was constantly dehydrated, with bouts of deadly low blood pressure and visits to the ER. Little did I know she was choking down powerful pain killers just to stand, walk, and sit. As it turns out, she rarely left her house to socialize due to her struggle. The reunions were a goal she wouldn’t deny herself. And there I was, trying to be tempered, holding back my old resentment as she smiled at me, even though she should’ve been in the hospital. What a moron I was. So much time wasted. So much life experience gone. So many chances crumbled away in the living years.
After the service was complete, I approached the opened white coffin where an unrecognizable body was displayed. The remains of this person looked as if she was some 25 years my elder, resting among the satin lace. Even though it was way too late, I looked at the face, which once belonged to Lori, and whispered, “Forgive me, Lori. Forgive me.”
As I drove back home, I asked the Redeemer to forgive my unsettled anger.
True lessons in life come at the most heartbreaking times. Lessons of humility learned easier when filled with fuel for the race.
“And whenever you stand to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in Heaven may also forgive you your faults. But if you are not forgiving, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your faults.” – Jesus – Mark 11:25-26 (Aramaic Bible In Plain English)