The Reunion

“She was just as I remembered – cool, confident, and possessing an easiness with people that made them feel at ease right away. I couldn’t believe it had been nine years since I last saw her. In many ways, it seemed like yesterday.

Out of everyone I reconnected with that day, she was the one who had changed the least. A strong, powerful, charismatic woman with a “take charge” personality, she never seemed afraid to speak her mind and say what needed to be said. You could always count on her to make things happen.”

Nearly a decade ago, I spent eight years of my life in production work for an industrial bakery. I was part of an assembly-line team that packed, wrapped, and shipped over a million cookies to the uttermost parts of the world every day. People that know me and follow my blog are often surprised to learn that I was a card carrying union member during these years. The occasion for this reunion was unique – an enterprising retiree organized a reunion tour and lunch event for past employees of the plant.

Many of my ex-coworkers arrived at the huge cookie factory and the grand tour began. We walked the same halls, crossed the same floor, and passed by the same machines we had operated for so many years – but everything was different because it was no longer our plant. It was no longer me packing the cookies that flowed down the line from the industrial ovens like a controlled river. It was no longer me visiting with the ladies on the line - coworkers that became friends over time as we worked side by side day after day for weeks, months, and years of our lives.

I saw the young man I had trained from his first day at the plant. None of us thought he would ever learn to pack, but when the production manager suggested we fire him. I recommended that we give him another week. Nine years later, he is still there – packing cookies like a pro. I greeted the feisty woman who is rough, tough, and gruff on the outside. Her harsh personality is a thick veneer that hides a secret treasure that very few of us know about – a heart of gold. The list of people who touched and impacted my life grew longer as the event continued.

Powerful memories of my love-hate relationship with this place and the people who worked there flooded my mind and surged through my heart, immersing me in a swirling gush of mixed emotions. I wanted to smile, laugh, and cry all at once. Strange as it may sound, I loved packing cookies.

The tour went well and it was fun to reconnect with people. Then we all went to lunch at a local pizza parlor for a chance to “catch up” and learn how life has changed for so many of us. Stories and picture of children and grandchildren filled the room. Conversations about who was missing from the gathering were popular. I learned that the funny woman with the great sense of humor who knew how to make us laugh and the sweet, kind-hearted single mom who was loved by most and liked by all had recently died.

Then the treasured old-timers who had the longest careers were featured as our event coordinator facilitated discussion and elicited stories of what they have been doing since retirement. Their stories and snapshots of life gave me a sense of who they are and reminded me that life is precious and meaningful no matter what season of life you are in.

We heard stories of fifty-year wedding anniversaries and terminated marriages. Some people were flourishing in retirement while others were struggling to adjust to life outside the plant. One woman led with her sense of humor and a few people seemed defeated – beaten down by life with little to no hope or joy in their life.

As I observed these cookie industry alumni and listened to the stories of their lives, I was filled with a sense of gratitude and recognized that I am fully known and fully loved by a God who has forgiven my sins and past mistakes and healed my shame. He loves and accepts me just as I am – warts and all. I am blessed with a husband and family who fill my life with joy and meaning.

And today, in a huge cookie factory, I was reminded of the enduring value and great blessing of friendship.