Monday, July 18, 2011

3 Reasons to Attend Your High School Reunion

Observing the other guest who were entering the large room obviously set up for a party, I felt out of place, as if I had wandered into the wrong event. These people were far too old. I was looking for a crowd of younger friends and acquaintances with whom I had graduated from high school. Some folks I saw here were cleverly disguised by wrinkles, gray hair and expanded waistlines. Others had opted for cosmetic camouflage like a darkened beard, face-altering surgery or a black toupee. For the most part I saw what might have been a retirement party of men and women, many of who evidenced apparently failing eyesight, diminished hearing and an array of other maladies. At first glance they appeared to be strangers, folks I could have stood behind in a Safeway checkout with the barest hint of recognition, saying to myself, "That person looks familiar somehow?"

Surely this was not the Vernon Senior Secondary graduating class of 1970. But, alas, a quick inventory of my own appearance verified that I matched the attributes of this group embarrassingly well. My mousy gray hair, hearing aids, glasses and the Parkinson's disease tremor; it was apparent that I fit. Peering too obviously and too closely at the small print on name tags I soon discovered familiar names, and a laugh or voice betrayed a buried memory. I was in the right place.

"Why had I come?" I asked myself. Sure there were friends there that I had kept up with, most from the Coldstream valley, a small farm and orchard country a few miles from the town of Vernon, British Columbia. A few had even been my classmates from Kindergarten through three years of law school. But I could have visited with them by just taking initiative to meet somewhere sometime. Why come to hear a stale collection of rarely recounted memories best left in the faded pages of the VSS 69/70 yearbook? Why come to learn of fellow students whose lives were train wrecks or sad tales of broken hearts and long-since-buried dreams? I discovered that many had silently answered, “Why bother” and went about their summer days as if the hollow high school years had not happened. But they did. They are a part of our history, a part of who we are right now.

Whether you were a charter member of the ‘in crowd’ or one who suffered the cruelest rejection by peers, high school likely played a critical role in your social persona. Whether you were the academic excellence award winner or one for whom graduation simply meant a permanent parole from structured education, those were important years.  Career paths and choices were etched into the working lives of many during those school days. For some, the seeds of marriage were planted, while others faced a future of frustration with love and its facsimiles.

Why had I come? There were 3 reasons.

1. I wanted to see the connection. Although my high school days were lackluster in all respects, they were formative. Yet I had never explored how my pre-grad life connected to my post-grad experiences. I gained some unexpected insights into how the weaving of that formative fabric related to the clothes I wear today.

2. I was curious. How did my life’s story compare to that of others? How had the drama played out for those fellow grads my poor memory could be coaxed to recall? For too many the light-hearted teenage comedies had quickly switched to the saddest stories of self-destruction. For others the Cinderella had finally fled her humiliation. The prince of fame and fortune had arrived with the glass slipper that fit her waiting foot. She found her fairy tale ending.

3. I discovered I cared. The more I thought about it in the weeks leading up to the high school reunion the more undeniable it became. I hurt for those who daily dealt with tragedy. I mourned the loss of lives that ended too soon.  I applauded those who doggedly pursued success and found it. It seemed that there was more reason to hug, or at least shake hands warmly, despite any past insecurities that prevented such displays.

As I left the room that night I felt both fulfilled and fearful. I had walked through history and listened to the echoes from my high school halls. I was beginning to understand their richness and meaning. But I also knew that if there were a next time to meet there would be fewer of us to share the senior chapters of the books that we are writing. There would be more fresh-faced photos on the memorial wall to mourn.

Why go to your high school reunion? To see yourself comfortably reflected in the eyes that shared your youth. To give the gift of caring and acceptance. That is reason enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment