Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kind and generous doesn't do this reunion justice. But it's a start.

The only thing more surprising than having a 35th High School reunion – that feels like it can’t be true, but it is – was learning that not only did our class have a “theme song,” apparently we sang it at graduation. No memory of that. Zip. It was the almost inevitable “You’ve Got a Friend,” a title that will always aggravate the English major in me.

But my legendary, terrible memory skills aside - and they were in full view last night as I said at least a dozen times to various friends, “Sorry, I have no memory of that. Nope, don’t remember that either. What? We did that? We went where? How can you remember that?” - seeing everyone last night was a gift. These friendships, formed so many years ago when we had our entire lives filled with dreams, when we were facing decades of discovery about just who we would become, felt renewed, fresh and alive, even as we’ve all indisputably entered what I’ve heard someone call the youth of old age. Yes, we’re all 50 + but we’re also the ‘kids’ in AARP.

Seeing someone after thirty-five years: how do you even begin that conversation? First, you get past that nano-second in your brain going, “Name? NAME? NAME!! Oh – got it…Hi!!! How are you? Whew.” (Maybe that was just me because everyone else knew everyone else immediately. See the notes about memory or lack thereof above.) But back to the conversation. Sure, a glass of wine helps, just as it helps with many things in life. And in a way, I felt very humbled and blessed to have many old friends already feel a connection because of my writing over the years. We inevitably caught up on kids, marriage(s), jobs, and life. I loved hearing about the paths we’ve taken, and meeting their partners, who, like my own, played heroic and indefatigable “good sport” roles by patiently meeting dozens of people and then nodding, smiling and saying where they were from or what they did for a living dozens of times as well.

But what I really wanted to say was something like this: ‘Remember us? Remember when we were 17? Remember what we thought was important or life-altering back then? We’re different now but then again, maybe we’re not…in a good way. Maybe we’re still almost exactly who we used to be in the hundreds of small ways that really matter, and despite everything that’s different about us and who we've become, we can still share a hug and a kiss, a smile, a kind word.’

I didn’t, of course.

Seeing old classmates, vibrant, fun, accomplished and caring people, was a moment of restoration for me. These last few months, which have been some of the most challenging in my life, took a back seat to the realization that friendships from our youth may grow hazy but they never quite leave our consciousness. They make up huge parts of the ‘glory days’ Springsteen sings so energetically about in his song. They’re part of us - of who we turned out to be. It’s impossible to know whom we would have become without the people who sat right beside us, everyday in our classes, our clubs, our activities, some of whom we’ve known almost our entire lives. Yes, decades have passed and yes, we’ve long since ‘grown up.’ But some part of us still imagines each other as we were, standing on the brink of our lives; waiting to join the adults and really begin our lives.

And thirty-five years ago, not one of us could have predicted what that would mean. The intervening years may have seen some of us grow wealthy or fulfilled by a career. They have included heartache and pain as a result of lost marriages, long walks down Green Day's boulevard of broken dreams or challenging circumstances of many kinds. We’ve lost spouses, parents, siblings, and children. We’ve lost some classmates. But for those of us who gathered for the evening, we rediscovered this one true thing: we're here; and we’re all better people for having known each other. I believe that now, maybe more than I ever could have imagined in 1976.

So like everyone there, I shared my story and listened and just loved the moment. The unassailable fact is that we will always have our history as classmates. We can live six blocks from our childhood homes or across the world, and we’ll always be part of that group of people who formed a little community for that particular moment in time.

I joined the circle of my classmates, holding hands and singing along with James to close out the evening. But as the song played on, I sang more softly and just looked at the group, thinking: this is one of those images that will linger; the legendary tie that binds. But not a heavy, cumbersome chain; more like a strong silky thread that connects us; loose and flexible but unbreakable.

I’m not a poet but Natalie Merchant is and the lyrics of Kind and Generous seem more than appropriate here. To the Class of ’76, I thank you for who you were then, who you are now, and for sharing the ride.

Kind and Generous

You've been so kind and generous
I don't know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I'm in debt to you
For your selflessness, my admiration
And for everything you've done

You know I'm bound...I'm bound to thank you for it

You've been so kind and generous
I don't know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I'm in debt to you
And I never could have come this far without you
So for everything you've done

You know I'm bound...I'm bound to thank you for it

I want to thank you for so many gifts you gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you for your generosity
The love and the honesty that you gave me

I want to thank you; show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you; I want to thank you

I want to...
Thank you


say what? said...

AARP? Isn't that for old people who've finished most everything they ever hoped to achieve? At 57, I'm just getting started on what I hope to get done before I get old.

I have a 40th HS reunion next year. I wont be attending. I went to the 20th and noticed the "kids" had fallen into the very same cliches they'd occupied in 1972. I told my wife that absolutely nothing had changed. "Including me griping about them just as I did 20 years ago!"

I look back to see if I'm heading in the right direction. I figure I'm on track as no one back there is heading my way. :-)

renee said...

Hey - nice to see you here!!

See - that's exactly what made my reunion an amazing night. Honest to God, anything we had going on way back when is long gone and we're all just who we are. No more, no less and it's all okay. Actually, it's remarkable and completely fabulous.

Sorry your 20th was disappointing. The only thing I'd say is that at point, people were still what...37? 38? Maybe at least a few of them they thought some of that old s--t still mattered. You have a much better shot at the majority now knowing: "Nope, it doesn't" if you go to your 40th.

One woman's opinion.

say what? said...

I enjoy your posts, though I've been so bummed out since the rains began in August that I haven't had much to say about them, or anything else. As the dark clouds lift I feel up to thinking positively again.

I'll not attend the 40th reunion. I hated school from the second day of the first grade until the last day when I refused to attend graduation. Dad wouldn't let me drop out so I became a stoic and simply endured.

Over the years I've come to realize how much I enjoy learning things, sort of a balance to how much I hated school. I suspect had I been home schooled I might have gone on to college. Not that having a college degree would make me less of a misanthrope. :-)

It's a harder slog moving forward when I'm trying to learn the things I need to know at 57. But it's better than sitting with my peers lamenting that I'm not 17 again, or rehashing the 'good ole days' that weren't all that good.

I'm currently making 'good ole days' while everyone else seems to be remembering theirs. Which is good for them, distracting for me. ;-)

renee said...

You have no idea how interesting I find your comment about hating school and loving learning. Suffice it to say, it's a sentiment that's close to my heart in many ways.

Obviously, you know yourself. And I trust your instincts about your classmates and why reconnecting holds no allure for you.

For me, seeing classmates isn't necessarily so much a stroll down memory lane as it is a reality check of life, away from the framework of school and "groups" and grades - maybe life itself is the great equalizer.

Because what I get reminded of often is exactly what no one thinks at 17: not one of us is immune to sadness, or pain or challenges, no matter how brightly our stars might have been shining forty years ago.

At the same time, it's not all a drag. We've had lively, timely, "who are you now" kind of conversations that remind me why I we became friends so long ago.

Glad to hear your mood is lifting a bit. And welcome back! As Carly Simon sang, "These are the good old days."