Bringing Presence to the Present

I say, “I’m going to Minneapolis to attend my sixtieth—”

She says, “Birthday? That’s great. Someone throwing you a party?”

I say, “No, my sixtieth high school reunion.” I watch her do the math.

She says, “Wow, you don’t look that old!”

I say, “Thank you.”  I guess that’s what you say.

Hair shellacked into place–I never looked like this in high school reality.

June 3rd, 2024, sixty years to the day of graduation from Wayzata High School, 1964. Fifty remaining classmates from a class of about 150, crowd into a conference dining room at the back of a restaurant not too far from where our school used to be. The current student body is 3,700, a population larger than many Minnesota towns. One thing that makes our memories particularly poignant is our size back then. Smaller classes, activities, and sport teams. I wasn’t friends with everyone in my class, but I knew all their faces and most of their names.

Today, we look first at the nametag, then each other’s faces. We take hands, pause.

He says, “I remember you. How are you?”

I say, “I remember you, too. I’m fine actually. Still here. And you?”

He says, “I’m okay too…” We exchange a few sentences: how far they traveled or that they stayed in the area, and does anyone know whatever happened to XXX?

We move around, repeat this greeting. The room gets louder. The buffet is served. Folks are standing along the edge of the room, small clusters of tables in the middle. It’s a tight space, hard to hear. We’ve each come for something… to be seen, to see, to look into eyes that knew us when, that we may not have seen since then. Well, that’s why I came, and I find it surprisingly emotional. Even when the “I remember you,” is someone I didn’t spend time with… just that we were back there in the same space and time, and now here in this space and time. All of us 78 years old. We are the survivors, memory carriers for one another, naming the living and the dead—one third of us already gone.

Me, Bonnie, Christie, Janet

I ask the class president (it seems that was a life-long position!), “What if you grab a glass and ring in the moment with a spoon (it makes an agreeable bell-like sound) and I’ll invite people to “speak one at a time, your name and a few things you want us to know about how you are, now. Not a whole life review, a glimpse, and deeper hello.” Everybody’s in, and for the next hour and fifteen minutes we listen. Really listen.

People speak of retirement hobbies, professional highlights, service in Vietnam, marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren—especially grandchildren, and not knowing how to help them prepare for the world coming—how lucky we were to grow up when/where we did. Several speak of health issues (my cub photographer at our school newspaper has advanced Parkinson’s and has come with a walker and a helpful daughter), surviving cancer, losing spouses. The thing is: it’s meaningful. We have called presence into the present. We took the moment and re/union actually happened.

Christie and me–now.

I didn’t recite circle agreements. We didn’t have a bell—except for opening the space with a water glass. We didn’t have a talking piece: I just asked one person after another if they had something to share. I never mentioned we were doing a circle: we just each took a moment to speak and be heard. We remembered each other.

In this far-flung blog community, I encourage us to invite one another into the quality of presence that waits just below our surface chatting. We who have been called into circles know the magic elicited by a meaningful question, deep listening, and intentional speaking. We are carriers of knowledge that such heart-filled spaces exist. We have the skills to spontaneously host the hearts of those gathered: reunions, weddings, baby showers, goodbye or retirement parties, funerals and memorials—life’s ceremonial markers.

I closed the space with a few sentences: “We are the first year of the biggest generation in history. We have had huge collective impact—for good and not so good. As we reflect on our life journeys our voices are still needed. Our wisdom is needed—and we each have wisdom. We can listen for the good, true, and beautiful in people around us and hold what is good about humanity up to the light. And as long as we can, we keep on keeping on.”

The room dissolved into many conversations again, but there was a different quality to the buzz. One classmate remarked, “That was amazing. I’m so glad we arrived before we had to depart.”

That’s the kind of elder I want to be: to arrive, create presence, spread some love and compassion, witness each other’s stories before we depart. And maybe offer a reflection or two that might be helpful.

See you in that lovely and ethereal space! And if you like, share your own offerings of presence.

56 replies
  1. Tenneson
    Tenneson says:

    “…invite one another into the quality of presence that waits just below our surface chatting.” Thank you!

    Love the story. Love the circling that you call into being. Love the little step that changes the room room in big ways.

    🙂

    Reply
  2. Virginia Shapiro
    Virginia Shapiro says:

    Oh Thank you, Christina. What a great example of quietly bringing the circle. Is that a Minnesota photo? The leaves were too blurry to discern tree species.

    You and Ann are such blessings to all of us fortunate enough to read your missives.

    thank you for the joy and inspiration

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      That is the sunset from my sister’s house in Brooklyn Park, MN. The high school reunion was sandwiched between family reunions–both Ann’s and mine. A busy week! Good to hear from you.

      Reply
  3. Sherry Helmke
    Sherry Helmke says:

    Christina, Thank you for this lovely reminder that we can invite circle spirit where and whenever it feels right. I have been blessed to be in several recently — some structured and others that flowed organically. Grateful for all meaningful connection.
    Namaste,
    Sherry

    Reply
  4. Ken Corens
    Ken Corens says:

    Dear Christina, Thank you for bringing us into that experience. I’m hoping we can arrive in a space again soon.
    Ken–President For Life.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thanks Ken for ringing the bell! YOU, President for Life, is a blessing. Some other 78 year old other guy, not so much.

      Reply
  5. June Nailon
    June Nailon says:

    Once again Christina your words touch something in me. To quietly know someone and really hear, that is a gift. Thank you for sharing. June

    Reply
  6. Linda Porter
    Linda Porter says:

    As I am skipping my 50th class reunion next month, your words make me reconsider. If circles of hope and witness could be everywhere, how much broader our world could be. How lovely that you spoke up, that others listened…and truly heard from each other. I raise my hands to you.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      It is a touchy thing–because I am not interested in small talk, and milling about gets tiring very fast, even with or maybe because of the attached emotions. At my 50th there was also a moment–a smaller group outside on the (class) President’s lawn. I still tell the story of that, the men stepped into a converation about what they did not know was happening to girls that broke open my heart–well all of ours.

      Reply
  7. Tatiana van Rijswijk-Koot
    Tatiana van Rijswijk-Koot says:

    Wow, Christina. I read your blog and Ann’s with so much pleasure. Once you told me in a personal conversation, “Tatiana, never forget how much impact you generate. Few give it back in the moment. Some do, and always listen to that with gratitude, but be especially aware that you always generate impact!” Christina, these words have always been guiding for me. Words from a mentor that are deeply embedded in my being, who I am, and the direction I take. Words of full meaning and deep impact. I wanted to let you know this as one of the people you have encountered in your life. Your blogs are impactful and of great significance to me and many others. Thank you for that with all my heart. Love, Tatiana

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you so much Tatiana. Another quote I love goes something like this: The road is long and hard enough. If you love someone, tell them. If you appreciate someone, show them. If you want to encourage someone, reach out a hand.

      Reply
  8. Pam Elvy
    Pam Elvy says:

    Thank you! I have a 50-year class reunion next year and love your idea of inviting people to share in a “light” circle. Grateful for you!

    Reply
  9. Cassandra Carothers
    Cassandra Carothers says:

    Over time, I have become aware that I use Circle in most all my conversations; sharing just enough to be a part of the whole, but mostly bringing out the essence of a person in “How I do It” which of course is “Circling”.
    Thank you both, you have ingrained yourself in me.
    Cassandra Carothers

    Reply
  10. Roslyn Duffy
    Roslyn Duffy says:

    I recently moderated a talk with the leading question- What brings you joy? What an incredible energy ensued. People said they really needed the heart-lift this activity provided. Blessings to you. Roslyn

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      That is one of Ann’s favorite questions… so I have seen that magic. And it’s a great one to ask where there is political or other diversity… because it shows us commonality. Carry on Roslyn!

      Reply
  11. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    “That’s the kind of elder I want to be. . .” And you are; and you were before you were an elder. Maybe you and Ann even invented it. My 50th a few years ago: so many classmates gone, it’s sobering; class president must universally be a life position; being the same age as everyone in the room was so interesting, affirming in some way, to feel known by the mere fact of having the same early history; the 1960s divisions have faded away. And much later, to have all experienced a pandemic that postponed our reunion, and somehow linked my class with the 2020 graduating class, which had a much altered ceremony, seemed like another connection. Thank you for this. xoxo

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thanks for this great check-in about your reunion… maybe it’s a kind of visual “life review” as one another’s face kick open so many memories. Even if they are painful recalls, well we’re all here still, and like you said, the old divisions have faded away.

      Reply
  12. Ruth Pittard
    Ruth Pittard says:

    My birthday is June 2 and my 60th reunion is coming in October. I’m sending your story along to her so she can organize around making time for us to “spontaneously” circle toward presence and meaningful questions. I’ve offered to begin the time….
    Thank you, dear heart, for all you contribute seeding our efforts toward connection. I’ve seen you work your magic and will channel you as best I can! Sending lots of love along to you and Ann. You are both so much a part of my heart song. Ruth

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Yeah you, Ruth. Of course you will offer to host that checking-in. May you have many moments in that reunion when you actually feel re/unioned. Thank you, you are part of our heartsong as well

      Reply
  13. Carol Kassner
    Carol Kassner says:

    Dear Christina. Thank you for sharing this lovely reflection. Your Circle Wisdom transformed your reunion from small talk into depth talk. I hope you will share this story more broadly as it is an inspiring way to invite more people into these kinds of reunions in our later years. As we age, there will be fewer and fewer people present and the connections will be even more precious. Blessings and gratitude to you.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Carol, you always bring your own wisdom to these responses. Maybe I can place a version in the AARP magazine or through Sageing.
      Thank you for being in touch.

      Reply
  14. David Rozell
    David Rozell says:

    Thank you, Christina. Great story from a wonderful storyteller.

    From my class of ‘63 and 59 boys only half were alive for 50th at St Martins (Lacey). The Boarding School is long gone now but the buildings still remain and as I do my annual Pilgrimage to , St Martins College and retrace my steps on campus, I can still feel them all. Haunted with remembrances…and each important in my life. Grateful to be this age.
    Thanks for opening the door to a little life-review.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      I love this image, David… the haunting of walking through the place. I know this happens to me in Minneapolis. My grade school is condos now… but I wonder if there is laughter embedded in the walls.

      Reply
  15. Deb Lund
    Deb Lund says:

    Off to my Minnesota 50th soon. Your influence already put me in a circle leader role for our 40, where a third of our class was already gone—small Menahga, though beautiful with all its lakes, rivers, and trees, can be a tough place. Of the 49 in my class, four of us were first cousins, with had two second cousins as well. No banquets for this group—just our usual moment in the park and then, for those who wish, hanging out at Judy’s garage, which has two doors, one facing “the lake” (what everyone says for whatever lake is “theirs”). That’s where they’ll get a version of your ways and wisdom.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      What a different experience class size, let alone family relationships makes to this experience. Love life while living it… you model that beautifully.

      Reply
  16. Diana Lindsay
    Diana Lindsay says:

    I love this, Christina. It speaks so beautifully to the magic that can occur spontaneously. At a recent family reunion we started singing the songs we sang with our parents and grandparents before the “disruption” of my brother and I getting our first guitars and bringing in “our” music. As I head to my 50th college reunion in the fall, I will remember this post. Love!

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      This is such a great example of bringing different members of a family together around a long-loved activity. Thanks for sharing this, Diana.

      Reply
  17. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    Beautiful. Your story took me down some surprising roads: my own high school experience, my year in Minnesota and my time sitting in circle with you. What an interesting mash-up of memory. When I think of you I have this picture in my mind of eyes and heart and spirit lifted. You bring more than presence and guidance, you have a way of elevating the moments. How lucky we all are to receive that gift. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Bonnie Rae, for taking that dive into yourself. It is pretty amazing how our stories elicit so many other stories and memories in people around us. It is three weeks later and there are still moments from that reunion that are wandering my inner pathways. I would love to hear some of your “surprising roads” sometime… and I am honored to receive your experience of our times together.

      Reply
  18. Jenny Gwinn McGlothern
    Jenny Gwinn McGlothern says:

    It is so simple, and we make it so difficult to bring presence into the now. Thank you, Christina, for all you be to all those standing in front of you and in all the circles you touch. This sharing is what the whole world can use, an invitation to be here now. Blessings to you.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Yes, as long as the longing is in the room it is simple. One former classmate thanked me for making it happen and I said, “I knocked on the story door–everyone made it happen.” Be here now–because that is really all there is.

      Reply
  19. Sara Harris
    Sara Harris says:

    well, that actually IS the kind of elder you are. Maybe take out “want to be.”
    you speak so well to Being circle with presence in the world.
    from the wild of central WA with the vets and seeing the magic of circle once again. thank you thank you
    sara

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Ahhh Sara, so glad to know you are out there doing your profound healing in the wild world. Thanks for checking your phone and checking in. Carry on!

      Reply
  20. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    First, you’re very brave for going to the reunion. I’m just glad you didn’t decide to re-shellack your locks. Second, lucky for the other brave 49 folks that you did appear on the scene. I read this beautiful piece as Robert and I were driving home from Healing Circles Langley after attending the Monday morning circle. We were both already “high” on the love we felt as four men and four women shared their lives so vulnerably. Circles. The final word for major connection and love. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Ah Jeanne, so glad you are finding your way into your new life here and into wider community through a circle. And folks, this model can be replicated in other places–and is being replicated. Not duplicated, but adapted, adjusted, invited to flourish in the cultural flavor of each place. Look on their website for some ideas… look around your community for a place to begin. Here is the website for Healing Circles: https://healingcircleslangley.org/ and here is the website for The Circle Way, the foundational group process being used. https://www.thecircleway.net

      Reply
  21. Margaret L Brown
    Margaret L Brown says:

    You are so brave, Christina! I have never been to a high school reunion. Thanks for showing us how to do it…I loved your closing lines.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      The older we get the kinder these events are. I find that the divisions of the 1960’70s are forgotten, or forgiven, or healed in other ways. And people are grateful to be alive and healthy enough to show up. I have had meaningful experiences now at both the 50th/60th… and who knows if the class president will call us together again. 🙂

      Reply
  22. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Christina! What a story you share.
    Three thoughts on the page jumped out at me:
    – “We have called presence into the present.”
    -“Re/union actually happened.”
    -(probably my most loved) “I’m so glad we arrived before we had to depart.”

    The power of circle, time and time again!
    Whether it was done formally or not.
    That class of 1964 was certainly better for you attending! In 1964 and 60 years later. Thanks for sharing your gift time and time again and for holding onto hope in humanity.
    This story sooooo made me smile! Jeanne

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Art galleries are great places for circles… for eliciting the subtle (or not so subtle) responses to the show you are in or the art around you. A place to start slow and let words emerge that bring the depth alive in the pieces. Just saying…

      Reply
  23. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    Oh, how I love that you, who embody the circle way, brought the circle way into your reunion so deftly. That’s the kind of elder you are, one who “arrives, creates presence, spreads some love and compassion, witnessed each other’s stories before we depart. And maybe offer a reflection or two that might be helpful.”

    Reply
  24. J fields
    J fields says:

    Thank you Christina. Your words and actions of wisdom have always felt like soft rain on a
    thirsty body. I learn so much from you and use that in teaching Tai Ji. We begin
    in a circle and dare to dance with life ~ being awkward, brave, creative and kind.

    Reply
  25. VIENO WURRET
    VIENO WURRET says:

    Dear Christina, I had the joy of meeting you in Chicago at the CF&I conference. Gobbled up your Storycatcher book, and purchased two others ( I AM a fan). We passed our 55th Reunion, and when the next one rolls around,I plan to implement this simple and sweet ritual. Thank you so for sharing. Huge regards and Namaste’, Vieno ( President for LIfe….)
    ps- I think you’re wearing the Ho’oponpono Mala you won in the reunion photo-JOY!

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Dear Vieno, Thanks for all these lovely comments, and Yes I am wearing the beautiful jade mala you made and I won at the CF&I comference last fall. It lives many places in my house–on a home altar, wrapped around precious photos, next to my journal writing chair, and often in my hands as I pray The Seven Whispers (another book of mine–and a decades long morning prayer). I wear it for protection and to keep myself attached to the trees of home while I am faraway. So thank you for this lovely gift of presence–the way you hold presence. Mahalo. Christina

      Reply
  26. Helmuth von Bluecher
    Helmuth von Bluecher says:

    Christina, your description of our reunion is well expressed, I had similar thoughts but would not have expressed them as well. Thank you for encouraging us to have that circle of discussion. We were all so fortunate to have grown up where we did, and it’s nice to how many wonderful people came from WHS and especially our class. Glad the “committee” put it all together.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you, Helmuth. It is especially rewarding when someone who “knew me when…” is reading and commenting on the blog. Stay tuned… more is coming.

      Reply

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