The Crucible of a Class Reunion
I’m not a big fan of class reunions. People go, they schmooze with people they can’t remember but pretend to, they feel the need to justify their continued existence with inflated reports about their career successes, they pretend to be interested in what the other person has been doing over the past decade even though they share no point of contact any more, and then they promise to do it all over again in ten years. So why?
Recently I went to my high school class reunion, hoping to find something new, to get below the surface and make it different. I was nervous. I hadn’t seen any of my old classmates for decades. I had avoided these gatherings partly fearing their superficiality, and I’m not fond of large groups anyway. Also, I’d rather not replay my high school moments. Finally, like many, I’ve evolved from the protected rural subculture I was a part of then. I’ve moved on, while most of them have stayed in the small town and farming environments we grew up in. I had nothing in common with them anymore, I thought.
Sure enough, most of my classmates greeted each other as if they did it every day, while I constantly had to glance at name tags, mumbling their names, staring vacantly into their eyes, searching my memory while trying to be happy to see them and interested in what they were doing on the dairy farm these days. I’m sure they thought dementia had set in. It wasn’t going as I’d hoped. Why endure this discomfort?
I wanted to run, but something drew me to stay. Somehow, intuitively, I knew that placing myself back then with those people would offer something invaluable, something I couldn’t replace by simply reading an alumni update.
One revelation came when I understood why I could only vaguely remember some of them (or their names). When I was in high school, I had stayed to my own group most of the time. A teenager’s world is so self-absorbed and small. Egos are fragile and we avoid risks of interaction that might make us look stupid. And I was a timid kid, which made it harder. I could even feel the timidity of that young man as I interacted now. So, there I had a foil to measure my growth against. I wouldn’t call myself timid today, but I am still somewhat of a loner, happily. I admit I could use some balancing out there.
I had a chance to meet one of my old girlfriends again although I had to have someone point her out to me. Once we gave each other a warm hug, we had a good conversation. She left me for another guy whom she married right out of high school. He had recently passed away, so I had a chance to express my condolences. Rehearsing the good old days was easy and fun, and she and I felt a common gratitude and appreciation. Seeing her, hearing her share about her life and what was important to her, I realized how my life could have taken an entirely different turn had I stayed and married her, had her boyfriend turned husband not stolen her from me, and I was grateful to him. I wish I could have seen him again one more time.
I also had a chance to grieve for two friends who had shown me great kindness when I arrived at my new school in grade three. One had taken me under his wing to make sure I was treated fairly on the playground. The other had frequently invited me to his home to play with him on the farm. But I found out that one of them is in rehab, facing a long battle with alcohol, and the other is in prison. These weren’t the only heartaches among us.
Someone (whom I couldn’t remember) stood up to offer a prayer at the end. We thanked God for the school, for the times we had together, and for the lives we had now. That's when it all came together for me.
While praying, submitting ourselves to our common creator and redeemer, it dawned on me that together we faced a simple truth: we were all equals before God in the same boat. We were as one. One person’s joy, burden or guilt was the joy, burden or guilt of us all. None of us were self-made individuals but indispensable parts of each other, like it or not. Each of us had played a part, for better or worse, large or small, in shaping the other to be the person he or she is today. The realization was both humbling and terrifying to me. I wondered if I could consider my relationships today with the same reverence. Or would I find myself learning these things all over again in another ten years? Maybe that’s what reunions are for.