It all started with a picture…then a Facebook post…and, as they say, the rest is history. Thirty-nine years after living in community together, 26 of 32 participants and two of three leaders of Naramata’s Winter Session of 1978-1979 found each other again, with the help of social media, technological detective work, generous gifts of time and talent, and the compelling guidance of God’s still, small, voice.
Now in our 50s and 60s, we are part of a unique generation that straddles the years just before and just after the dawn of the Information Age. Ironically, one of our 12 weeks of study during Winter Session that year was entitled “Future Lifestyles,” led by Basil McDermott, during which we imagined the impact of various technologies on our lives in the future, including the personal computer. Little did we know that some of those very technologies would become the vehicles by which we would become reconnected.
First, a few found each other on Facebook, and when the photo of our Winter Session group was shared, people began to muse about how great it would be to have a reunion. Next, a private Facebook group was established and began to add members. Those members added others, and soon there were more than 20, all connected and making plans. A small core group took on the role of organizing, and chose a weekend. One organizer generously offered her home in Kelowna for a Friday night “Meet and Greet” barbeque. Another planned a picnic on the Naramata beach the following day. Another volunteer searched for the “lost sheep”, a task that proved challenging, but rewarding, as more and more participants were brought back into the fold.
An email distribution list was also created, as not everyone was on Facebook. A questionnaire was sent out, inviting people to share their life stories, to help shrink the 39-year gap at the gatherings, and provide those unable to attend a means to get re-acquainted from afar. Responses were compiled and re-distributed. People found mementoes and photos to be digitized and assembled into a slide show set to music from the 1970s. A cassette tape of several participants playing songs they had written was also digitized and used in the slide show. The search for those lost continued right up until the last day, when it became clear that everyone who could be found was found. Others had passed away. We made luminaries to light at a closing ceremony and release on the lake in memory of those no longer present, but still cherished. Finally, everything was ready; all that remained was for the reunion to unfold.
And then it happened! At the “Meet and Greet” all the worry, nervousness and tension of 39 years apart melted away in gasps of delight and warm hugs. Tears and laughter mingled as people searched each other’s eyes and found old friends. Time rolled back as memories spilled out like treasure buried and unearthed. People socialized over drinks and appetizers, looking at memorabilia, and delighting in getting reacquainted and meeting partners and children. They puzzled over the trivia questions, with some recalling events and facts that others could not.
The slide show brought more laughter and tears, as the images of our younger selves flashed on the screen and music of the era stirred nostalgic memories. Spontaneously, the group picked up the words of the final slide and chanted them to the familiar tune.
The next day, the majority traveled down the lake and gathered anew on the Naramata beach, for a picnic lunch. Barb Green, a member of the Board came to greet us, give us an update on the Centre and encourage us to re-establish our connection by joining the Society, bringing our children and grandchildren, or attending a program. Later, Jenne Newman, also a Board member, took us on a walking tour of the grounds, highlighting the new accommodation and some of the challenges the Centre faces in determining the future Centre footprint.
We stopped to view a mural in one of the children’s program spaces in lower McLaren Hall, which several of our Winter Session’s participants had painted. Lastly, the group gathered up at the chapel for a closing, where we were invited to let go of old burdens and express gratitude on ribbons tied to a branch, and to receive gifts in the form of rocks gathered on site and brought from elsewhere. Interwoven into the ceremony were many of the chants we’d sung. Our time together concluded by taking the luminaries, and walking them down to the lake, where they were released in memory of all who were present, in person or in spirit.
After emotional goodbyes, folks headed back to their lives, but renewed friendships continue to flourish online and in person, testimony that the connections made through the intentional, communal educational experience that was Winter Session are strong enough and resilient enough to withstand the strains of time and distance. And… God’s still, small voice can still be heard in the sacred space that is Naramata Centre.