The email alert popped up with annoying regularity, reminding me that my high school reunion was approaching and I had not yet purchased my ticket. I had already decided months earlier that I was not going, not this time. And time was the operative word, because this reunion marked forty years since my graduation. Attending would force me to face that reality head on and I simply wasn't prepared for it.
Finally, just days before the date, I was shamed into sending in my RSVP. I was tagged on Facebook in an old photo with a friend from junior high along with the pointed question, "Why is Jim not coming (to the reunion)?" When others posted similar comments I relented and begrudgingly bought a ticket, still not yet committed to actually showing up.
Driving up to the venue, I felt my trepidation intensifying as I got closer. Fortunately, before I made it to the front door I was greeted by two old friends. One was perennially on the reunion committee with the boundless energy that reminded me why she had been a cheerleader so many years before. The other was a child psychiatrist, who frankly, looked more like a movie star. She immediately sensed my anxiety and invited me to share their bench while they both gave me a needed pep talk before going in.
The night before my reunion I had watched the ridiculous but entertaining 1999 film Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. That film chronicled a fictional 10-year reunion where everyone seemed determined to impress their former classmates with how successful they had become. What made my fortieth so refreshing is that there was virtually none of that. Maybe we were just happy to see our fellow survivors. Some people looked better than I'd imagined and others had not fared quite as well. Some were divorced, others were remarried and some had remained single for all the intervening years. There were grandparents and even new parents. Some had enjoyed wildly successful careers: there was an internet pioneer, a comedy writer and a world famous choreographer among our classmates. Others seemed to still be searching or in between careers. But we were together again.
One former classmate flew in from his home in São Paulo Brazil just for the event. That's how important it was to him. Some people were obviously happy with their lives and others appeared less so, but we were together. It was like any family. In a way, that's what this large disparate group of adult strangers really was - we had lived though the sometimes magical and often maddening precious few years of high school. That shared experience bound us forever, even now, half a lifetime later. And for one night, we could look past the thinning hair, extra pounds and obvious years of wear and tear and realize the true gift of those memories. We don't get to choose our families nor do we pick our classmates, but we are linked forever, just the same.
The gift I had almost overlooked and discarded was that we got to remember and reminisce, to laugh and lament, to feel like the class of '74 again, even if only for one night. This wasn't so much a high school reunion as it was a family reunion. I did not want to go and yet I was among the last to leave. I guess those email alerts weren't so annoying after all.