Hold on to your hats, folks, this is going to be a LONG post. If ever there was an event difficult to capture in words, it would be the reunion I enjoyed this past weekend. I spent a gap year in college touring with Up With People and my amazing cast gathered in Santa Barbara over the long President’s Day weekend for our nearly 33 year reunion!
For the unfortunate ones out there who have never experienced an encounter with Up With People, here’s a little background…
What would become known as UWP began in the mid-sixties through regional “Sing Out” performances linked to the Moral Re-armament movement (MRA). By 1968, J. Blanton Belk took leadership and separated from the MRA to create a non-profit, cross-cultural educational organization for the purpose of inspiring young people to make a difference in the world and build bridges of communication between people of all nations through music and community service. By the time I began my year in 1986, UWP had grown in popularity with 5 casts of 120 students each criss-crossing the world every year performing anywhere from venues in rural communities to high profile appearances like the Super Bowl Halftime!
My cast was made up of 120+ students and staff who came from 35 U.S. States, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Mexico, Panama, Canada, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Ireland, France, Italy, Switzerland, what was West Germany at the time, Holland, Belgium and Bermuda! (Did I leave anyone out? That’s me on the top row about a third of the way in from the left)
Some of the highlights for my cast included performing on TV at the World Cycling Championships, touring the Olympic Village in Colorado Springs, performing special corporate shows in Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix, participating in the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in Canada with Shari Lewis (you know, the Lamb Chop lady) and Pat & Debby Boone, performing for the first lady (Nancy Reagan) and touring the White House, working at the Special Olympics in Connecticut, a meet and greet with singer Natalie Cole and the hundreds of school assemblies and classroom visits we had with children all over the world! 😉
I pulled out my UWP photo albums and memorabilia in preparation for the reunion and discovered this forgotten letter I wrote to my supporters when I returned from my tour. It’s kind of interesting to listen to my 21 year old self try to communicate the impact the experience had on me…
Fast forward 32 1/2 years…
This time around we had over 50 (!) cast mates, a couple of spouses and a handful of the next generation descend upon our small town to “Raise A Ruckus” (*show tune reference) for 4 days in chilly, breezy Santa Barbara.
The weekend began with a group headed to Costco to stock up on food and beverages…5 carts and $1500 later…
Shortly after this picture was taken, I got a text from a friend of mine who works at Costco that read “I just saw a bunch of people who love you so much at Costco!”. Ha Ha I am NOT surprised that random small world connection was made. “Up, up with people. You meet ’em wherever you go.” (*another show tune reference)
The excitement for me built to a fever pitch on Friday as I anticipated seeing everyone that night AND having the boys home for a couple of days!!!! YAY!!!
I heard from several people prior to the reunion that they were nervous about coming…for some it was rooted in the insecurities that come with not having seen this group in so long, for many it was anxiety about seeing me. I totally get it and prayed that any fear or concern people were bringing with them would be wiped away completely once we were together and that is CERTAINLY what happened…
Saturday was another full day of hanging out. The cast assembled mid-afternoon for a circle time centered on ME and extending love and support to my family. Much to my surprise “TrishFest 2019” was unveiled in full!! Ha Ha Although it was very surreal and most humbling to have a significant amount of time focused on me, I felt the enormous love and embraced it all with much gratitude.
We dusted off the old songbook and serenaded each other with our show’s inspiring final anthem…(the kids brought their instruments and jumped in to accompany us with no run through! I LOVE that!!!)
Oh, and just in case you think the singing ended there…think again!
(Thank you Charlene, Deanna and ALL for putting yourselves out there…these videos definitely capture the thoughtful and fun spirit of this group)
The party continued well into the night with entertainment provided by Wilson, Max, J.D., our family friend Jeremy and a handful of others on shaker eggs and tambourines! 🙂
Coast Community Church nearly doubled in size on Sunday morning with the inclusion of the visiting Uppies! How precious is was for our family to share our church community with our out of town friends and vice versa…it was a magical morning of worship and friendship!
The fun continued throughout the day on Sunday and we all enjoyed dinner prepared by this capable crew:
Honestly, the greatest joy for me throughout the weekend was sitting back and watching small groups gather all over the house and backyard at any given time literally soaking each other up…there was so much catching up to do and laughter to be shared! Everyone really took advantage of every second!
I was sharing all about the reunion with a friend and she stopped me mid-sentence and pointed out that I used the word “freedom” several times in my description of the weekend and how poignant it is that I’d feel so free while being so restricted physically. I love that observation. It’s so true! Without the typical distractions of daily living, I have the freedom to truly live in. the. moment. FULLY and boy, I sure did that all weekend. I also experienced a refreshing freedom to speak bold words of encouragement into the lives of my friends. Not that I haven’t said encouraging things in the past but it hit me this weekend how many thousands of opportunities I missed out on in my lifetime to speak into the lives of others because I was shy or didn’t want to intrude on a person’s personal life or was too busy to sit and really observe what was going on around me. There were no such obstacles this weekend and it was a rich, rich time for me emotionally. In the same way, I felt the freedom to communicate my love but it didn’t feel sad like “this is the last time I’m gonna get to say it so I’ll say it” kind of thing…just a real genuine, “grab your face and look you in the eye” kind of thing. Of course, this is an easy crowd to encourage and love but there is a precious shift in perspective, nonetheless, when you live your emotional life knowing you have absolutely nothing to lose.
So now what? I kind of feel like 21 year old Trish after the tour ended not knowing where to go from here…my heart is so full, my body is so tired, I’m sad to see all the social media posts of everyone headed home and I so wish I could go to our 35th in Scottsdale, AZ! Who knows, maybe I will be able to. 😉
I asked Rolf what his take away was from the weekend and he said it was good for he and the kids to see me loved so well and how touched he is by the extravagance of Cast C! So sweet.
Well Cast C, you heard from the big guy himself! You are a loving and an extravagant group and we thank you for lavishing all that goodness on us! As I said in our circle time, the circumstances suck and I would give anything for things to be different but I am tremendously grateful for the time and presence of mind to be able to say “I love you and I’m so grateful for the remarkable history we share”.
P.S. I was so busy “living in the moment” I didn’t take any pictures this weekend so thank you all for the pictures and videos you shared with me…I give you photo and video credit! 😉
Love and MORE love, Trish