• "Dude, are you going to cry at this trip?"

    "No way, man. I'm rock-solid."

    We all had brothers and sisters in 8th grade who've been on the Starved Rock retreat. They said that they all cried. All the guys were reassuring themselves and their friends that they were invincible. No crying would happen to them. Of course the guys who were showing off to the ladies would say, "I dunno, I guess I'll cry a little..."

    Obviously, the girls were talking about each and every emotion that would appear on this retreat.

    Pt. 1: Departure
    At our school, we have religion teachers, both for our school class and for public school children who need a religious education that is not provided at their school.

    The religion teachers and our principal gathered us in the Parish Center for donuts and juice. They handed out tye-dye shirts for us to wear. They said that these shirts represented uniqueness in each and every one of us.

    The teachers gave us the "battle-plan," and us 33 troopers hopped on the bus and headed to our destination.

    Pt. 2: Letters
    "It's raining, you gotta be kidding me..." I said.

    The retreat was intended to be held outside. We spent the time inside the conference room that our teachers rented for the day. We set up shop in our room, played some games that required team-work and thinking, and we, then, were all told to sit down.

    Mrs. Langelett, our 8th gr. "A" homeroom teacher gave us a talk about our years at school here, and how she was glad she spent them with us. Mushy stuff. She then pulled out a bag filled with letters.

    These letters were filled with memories of educators past. Some of the most emotional readings came from the teachers we had in Junior High. I saw a few of the girls tearing up. Most of the guys were stolid like myself. "I'm not breaking down," I told myself. "I'm a warrior."

    Pt. 3: What do I think?
    Our teachers split us up into groups and gave us folded pieces of paper with a photo of a class-mate on it. We were told to open up the paper and write a few words for them, maybe even decorations, then to pass it around within your group. Everybody had to write on every piece of paper in your group.

    The groups that wrote about us handed in their papers, we handed in our papers, and other groups handed in their papers. At the end of our retreat, the papers with the photos were handed to their respective people. I read my comments. They all basically dealt with my time as "Lumiere" in our school's production of Beauty and the Beast. They said things like, "Great accent, you're a kickass singer, don't give up your acting dream." I felt proud.

    Pt. 4: holy s***, FOOD!!!
    We were given our lunches and were filed in to a HUGE room to eat them. A friend of mine brought some cards to play, and all my other friends gathered 'round.

    We played Blackjack, BS, Poker, and Texas Hold 'Em, and before we knew it, we had to go back to the conference room.

    "Wait, wait, wait, we need pictures!" Mrs. Pallisard told us.

    We gathered around a fireplace in the lodge area to take pictures.

    THEN, we went back to the conference room.

    Pt. 5: You never told your father, WHAT?!
    Mr. Granger, our principal, gathered us around to share a story from when he was young.

    He lived on a farm, and lived the farm life. He experienced tough love from his father, who, in fact, never said that he loved his son. Mr. Granger, in return, never said that he loved him back.

    Mr. Granger was around the age of 40 when this happened: One day, at a friend's wedding, Mr. Granger's father suffered a massive stroke, and was permanently paralyzed and unable to care for himself, but he lived. He refused to go to a nursing home. You know elderly people, so stubborn.

    Mr. Granger literally had to change his father's diaper, bathe him, and occasionally feed him. He, along with his sisters and mother, knew that this had to be embarassing, to be doing these things for the parental figure in your life who's always been the one to do everything.

    Mr. Granger's father's condition worsened. He was sent to the hospital, where he and his family was told that he was not going to live for long. Mr. Granger was the last relative to come and see him.

    Mr. Granger's father, who also couldn't talk because of the stroke, mumbled something that sounded like, "I love you."

    Mr. Granger reminded us to always tell your loved ones that they are your "loved ones," not just your, "ones."

    I almost cried that time.

    We were given envelopes that said our parents' names. Our teachers told us that they were letters written by our parents to us for this retreat.
    I read only my mom's letter, because I didn't get one from my dad. My parents are divorced. My dad was in Europe on business. He said he sent one before he left, though. It lightened the burden when he said that.

    After reading that letter, I cried. For real. Tears dripped down. I broke my promise to myself, but it felt good. I really understand, now, what people say when they tell you not to bottle up your emotions.

    Pt. 6: A Nucleus Branching Out
    We were all gathered to the same room where we had lunch.

    Our teachers took out our bed-sheet bundle. It was a square made from pipes that had strips of bed-sheets (that represented each student) tied to them. They were all intertwined, all knotted together. It represented our closeness as an 8th grade class.

    We were told to take it apart.

    After doing so, our teacher gave us this riddle: "You must reassemble these bedsheets in this fashion: You are still a nucleus, a nucleus of friends, who are branching out to different schools. Figure that one out."

    And we did. We bundled the sheets together all in one knot, and then we took different ends and spread them out to look like a "nucleus branching out."

    After taking a couple more pictures, we were gathered in the conference center again.

    Pt. 7: 100 Years to Live
    Our I.T. guy (the person who works with the tech stuff at our school) put together a video of photos from our retreat and our years at the school.

    Nobody said a word. We just watched the video in total silence. Nobody even cried.

    Pt. 8: Alumni
    Alumni from the Catholic school sent in letters detailing their lives as they branched out from the good education they received at the school.

    Some were realtors, some had their own business, some were stay-at-home parents. All of them remembered their experiences at the retreat.

    Teachers also read us some bible readings that truly inspired us, and had us listen to some religious songs. The experience at Starved Rock moved every one of us.

    Pt. 9: Don't Flood the Room with Tears, jeez.
    Our teachers told us to pick up a piece of paper and some pencils and then had us return to our seats and do nothing else.

    After everybody took their seat, the teachers said that we were writing letters back to our parents. It didn't matter what our letters said, it only mattered that they were from our hearts, that they were to mean something specific to your families.

    I wrote to my dad, telling him that I want to follow in his footsteps. I wrote to my mom telling her that our family has endured so much, and fought through the struggles with love in our hearts.

    I could've sworn that part of both of those letters became smudged because tears came from my eyes and landed on the words I wrote. My contact even came out of my eye for that reason.

    Pt. 10: The Final Departure
    Yearbooks! Our teachers gave us yearbooks to look through and pens to write autographs in. The entire bus-trip home consisted of finding people who didn't sign your yearbook.

    I guess that was it. It all ended at that bus-trip. Nothing went into Starved Rock, nothing came out that was extremely personal. No more tears. You can only move forward.