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Joyce Putnam Eblen
Author, Speaker, Humorist

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Ruminations on Reunions and Radiation

Posted on August 4, 2017 at 3:05 PM

     I haven't done a blog in awhile because I haven't been able to think.  Ordinarily in the summer I prefer not to think.  I would rather vegetate.  This summer, I did quite a lot of vegetating, not much thinking.  This time, it wasn't what I wanted to do.  It was all I could do.  From the beginning of May through the middle of June I was undergoing radiation treatments for cancer and had a lot of trouble putting sentences together.  (This is a big problem for a writer/speaker.)  Sometime about when I began to regain my apetite (I always knew that would come back), I began to be able to put my thoughts together again.   So, although it's not quite time for students to begin writing those obligatory essays on What I Did on My Summer Vacation, please indulge me as I contribute a few thoughts on What I Learned over My Summer Vacation.

     About a year ago, long before my cancer was diagnosed,  planning began for my 50th high school class reunion.  There were 18 graduates in the class of 1967 at The Stevens School, a small college preparatory academy for girls in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  We all are still living and have kept in touch through the years.  Every 5 years, we have gathered together for dinner at the home of our gracious and hospitable senior class president. This year, however, the class decided to celebrate our 50th with a destination reunion and ultimately, that destination was Myrtle Beach.

     The reunion dates had been set.  The event venue was reserved.  Hotels and flights were being booked.  We had even decided to go together as a group to a local theatre to see a Motown musical revue.  Then I found out that I was facing surgery with possible follow-up radiation treatments. How was this all going to work out?  I had absolutely no clue.  (I remember so well trying to work out the calendar dates in my head and on the computer and having no success whatsoever.)   Ultimately, it was a God thing.  It always is.

     As things played out, having the reunion here in Myrtle Beach was the only way I could have attended at all.  Even the dates, determined months before, turned out to be ideal--long enough after my surgery that I was able to enjoy the event, but just before the rigors of radiation were to begin.  All the details , and there were a lot of them, fell into place perfectly.  Everyone enjoyed safe travel to, from, and within Myrtle Beach.  (No small feat!) Even the weather was beautiful.  (That, of course, is another God thing.)

     Exactly half (9 members of the original graduating class) made it to the reunion, but we heard from the others through letters, phone calls, and social media.  I have always been appreciative of my years at Stevens, but as time has rolled on, I have been increasingly aware of what an amazing group these women are.  Yes, a few have attained advanced degrees, reached important executive positions, or gained considerable wealth, but more importantly, they all have faced life's challenges (aging parents, family crises, debilitating illness, etc.) with grace and resilience. They have become for me the sisters I never had, more like family than classmates.

     My other learnings this summer came through having radiation treatments.  First, I found out that I could survive being inserted daily into what was essentially a life-sized toothpaste tube.  (This is difficult for a claustrophobic.  I am that person who scouts out all the fire exits before being seated in a movie theatre or restaurant.  I am also the person who inventories all the towels and bed linens to see if by tying them all together, I will be able to get out the window of my burning hotel room.)  Some radiation patients have music played to soothe their anxieties.  That option was not presented to me.  Since I couldn't read a book or check my email in "the tube", I was basically left to my own devices.  I ran through pretty much everything I have ever learned.

     I started out with Bible verses, but since I was not raised Southern Baptist, I ran out of those pretty quickly.  So I moved on to recalling the second verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner"--one that no one seems to know anymore--Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand, Between their loved homes and the war's desolation, Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land, Praise the Power that made and preserved them a nation...

    From there I moved on to Shakespeare, starting with the sonnets--"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments..." and then on to the plays--"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."  From English literature I moved on to Latin conjugations and declensions, then Greek moods and tenses.  Finally, mercifully, it would all be over-- until the next day when I would begin the routine again.

     In my four years at Stevens, I studied ancient, European, American, and art history as well as American and English literature.  I had four years of Latin, three years of Spanish, and two years of classical Greek.  The Stevens School gave me a lifelong love of learning and a true classical education for which I will be forever grateful.  I know that to many people that kind of education has gone the way of the dinosaurs.  It didn't arm me with the latest job skills or high-tech savvy.  During my radiation treatments, I was glad to be taken care of by people with just those skills and savvy.  However, alone in "the tube", I was not able to pull out an iphone and check something through Google.  I didn't need to, because it was all there in my mind.   Thank you, God, and Stevens School.

      


     


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