Heavy hearted

The administration where I work discourages us from visiting Facebook while at work. Their biggest concern is not that we spend every minute while on the clock with our noses to the grindstone; their biggest concern is reserving enough bandwidth space for our patrons and our workers. Most of us cheat on this policy at least a little. I’m not going to worry about getting caught visiting Facebook briefly when I log in and see that my boss is also shown online.

Today was a bad day to glance at Facebook. One of the first posts I saw was from a close family member. Her post was personal and thoughtful, reminding me of the struggles she has been facing and the courage with which she has done so.

Right under that was a post saying that one of my friends from college has died.

I feel guilty not keeping in touch with this friend. Over the past few months he has been battling cancer, and he used Facebook to report his treatment and progress to all his friends. I regret that I never once responded with encouraging words. In fact, often I would skim his updates and then move on to someone else. (Can you spell TMI?) When I got home from work this afternoon, one of my first projects was to write a letter to his wife (also a friend from college) expressing my condolences and offering my prayers. I know this sounds odd, but I feel as though a mailed letter might atone for my lack of communication with them on Facebook.

When I first opened a Facebook account, my main reason to do so was to keep track of my children’s lives. Over time high school friends and college friends began emerging, and it was nice to be in touch. I’ve never been one to share much on Facebook, though—I’m more of a lurker, keeping tabs on other people in my life without reminding them too often of my existence.

The Big Chill was released when my friends and I were in college. We all saw the movie and speculated about the future of our friendships. Some of us were able to return to campus for Homecoming Weekend in the first years after graduation. I remember in particular one uproarious evening in a restaurant when most of the group was there. Over time, though, jobs and families made it harder for the group to assemble. If not for Facebook, by now most of us would be strangers to each other, with a few still making the effort to update one another with a letter at Christmas.

I won’t be able to make it to his funeral. I expect that most of the rest of our college group will also be missing. I feel bad about that absence, but it can’t be helped. Along with memories of past good times, I am also making sure to appreciate the people in my life today—especially the one who almost didn’t make it this far. J.

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Five back-to-school movies

When I was a boy, school didn’t start until the middle of the last week of August. We had half a day, and then a full day or two, and then a weekend before the school year really got rolling. Of course these were the days when I walked to school, uphill, even in the snow, twice a day. Gasoline was forty cents a gallon, milk was $1.32 a gallon, you could buy a loaf of bread for twenty-four cents and mail a letter for six cents. No, I did not have a pet dinosaur!

Anyhow, certain movies from the late 1970s and from the 1980s remind me of going back to school. The movies on my list are based in high schools and colleges rather than elementary school, and some are more true-to-life than others. A lot of other movies are set in schools, but the following movies mean the most to me this month as children, teens, young adults, and teachers are on their way back to their respective classrooms.

Grease (1978): This movie is nothing like my high school memories. I did not attend school in the 1950s, none of my fellow students were in their twenties or thirties, and only a few of them regularly broke into song and dance. (Some of those who did, though, were pretty good.) The “Summer Loving” bit of the movie, though, perfectly captures the feelings of the end of summer vacation and the start of the school year. My favorite memory of Grease will not be shown on the screen—I remember a ten-year-old girl who had just seen the movie trying to explain its plot to me. Priceless!

Animal House (1978): My college was nothing like this movie, but some students there definitely tried to reproduce this movie on campus. We had fraternities and sororities, excessive drinking and partying, in the setting of stately buildings and droll professors like Donald Sutherland’s character. Many of the guys wished they were John Belushi. This movie is raunchy enough that I would be embarrassed to watch it with my parents or my children, but it has its moments. “Seven years of college—wasted!” “Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!”

Fame (1980): Based on a real school in New York City, this movie shows scattered events from the lives of a few students and teachers at a high school dedicated to the fine arts (music, dance, and theater). Fame is more a collection of short stories than a movie with a single plot or theme, but the characters and their situations are entirely believable. Every song-and-dance number fits the movie. When I was in high school, I was involved in music and in theater, so some parts of this movie strike close to home.

Big Chill (1983): I saw this movie in a theater when it came out. All my friends saw this movie too. We were certain that we would keep in touch with each other, care about each other, and support each other. If it wasn’t for Facebook, most of us wouldn’t even know where the others are today. Not one scene in this movie takes place in a school, but this movie still reminds me of the intangible things that mattered most about college. It makes me think of the times we said to each other, “This is what college was meant to be.” Every fall I try to watch this movie the weekend of my alma mater’s homecoming celebration.

Footloose (1984): A young man from the big city must attend high school in a small town, a town where the council has banned dancing. Footloose is a typical coming-of-age, teen angst movie from the 1980s, but it is one of those movies that gets it right. Kevin Bacon shines as the central character, and John Lithgow is brilliant as the minister opposed to dancing, but the two of them are surrounded by smaller characters who are thoroughly convincing. Although the fist fight near the end of the movie seems contrived and unnecessary, every other scene builds the story, and the soundtrack is notable as well. I haven’t seen the recent remake, and I don’t want to see it. This movie is nearly perfect just the way it is.

Tomorrow: five more back-to-school movies from the 1980s. J.