Sometimes you have to look to the past to see where your future leads.
I was just thinking about this the other day. I took a quick weekend trip back “home” to Colorado where my high school class held a loosely organized 35th reunion.
My summers are frenzied due to the seasonal nature of our business and even taking a bathroom break is at times impossible. An overnight trip halfway across the country is tempting the Fates, but hey, everyone deserves an intermission from life even if it is brief.
Since invitations were issued via email and Facebook, I assumed only a handful of the original 540-plus class of 1974 would show up. No big deposits for dinner in a fancy ballroom (that was the tenth reunion, held at the Broadmoor); we were going to meet in a local restaurant and pay for our own drinks and dinner. I was looking forward to an intimate setting, one where we could linger over thoughtful conversations. A lot has happened in the last 35 years, much of it positive. I was excited to connect with people in the flesh, ones I rarely interacted with in high school but who are now fast friends (with recent help from the Internet).
We instead ended up a raucous, friendly mob taking over most of Giuseppe’s Depot, thanks to the addition of a small contingent of the Class of '73 (and my sister, Class of ’76).
There are many strong feelings associated with taking a step back in time. To mingle with people with whom you once spent four (or twelve) compacted years, some joyous, some stressful, is an exercise some can never undertake. Take my husband. He has no compulsion to return to his highbrow St. Paul neighborhood for high school reunions and never has.
High school is, was, and will always be a microcosm of the larger world – a microcosm, yet in many ways amplified a thousand times. Even in then-rural Colorado, there were cliques, those clear lines of demarcation — the athletes, the charming beautiful popular people, the smart kids, the burnouts, the troubled kids, the nerds, the ranch kids. High school is often a conflagration fueled by peer pressure, angst, and an overload of adolescent hormones. The problem lies in those four years. It may seem like an eternity when you’re in the thick of it, but it’s actually just a sliver of life.
It is an important time when personalities not only form but are sometimes set in concrete, at time perhaps as noteworthy as the years from birth through toddlerhood.
With trepidation I watched as my own two children navigated their high school years. I hoped to arm them with the wisdom of my own experience so that they wouldn’t make my mistakes (“Join this club!” “Be nice to that kid!” “Try out for this!” "Take this class!"), but that was futile. The only way to learn about high school – and life – is to live it. No one else can do it for you.
I harbor some regrets about those days, like not paying attention and being extraordinarily lazy. I should have worked harder at my friendships as well as my schoolwork. When you’re a teenager, you think you know everything and you’ll be around forever. But do I worry and fret about it now? Not really. My childhood might not have been perfect, but I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s.
An amazing thing happened on the way past the high school cliques: maturity. I went to my tenth reunion feeling a bit of anxiety. Some of the old self-doubt from my teenage years resurfaced that night. By the time 30 years had passed, we were thankfully all over it. Age makes your own skin very comfortable indeed. I’ve met many nice people at reunions, some lifelong friends, some casual acquaintances, and some with whom I never shared a single interaction during our school years.
A woman I was talking to told me “I always thought you were so smart.” (I always thought she was so popular.) I appreciated the compliment although I feel like I wasn’t really so smart. After all, I wasted my twenties having a really good time. Her words made me think.
Here is where attending a high school reunion can be used as a tool.
I might be fifty-*cough*-three some years old, but I still have life plans. I’m writing semi-seriously and want to be published someday. I hope someday soon. Time is wasting.
I went home with my sister and even though I was half-dead from jet lag and excited from being home, I sat down at the computer and worked on my novel. Feverishly.
Reunioning can be a good thing.