High school reunions have a particular character about them, depending on the attendee's phase of life. Since the members of the class are roughly the same age, the phases are, to some degree, shared in common. Life passages such as marriage, having and raising children, and building careers mark these reunions, either making us feel satisfied with our station in life or wondering if we might have missed the train to prosperity-ville.
A forty-year reunion however (such as the one I attended this weekend), has a unique character. We're pretty much past the career-building stage (some have even retired—early, of course!), and if we have children, might even be able to brag about our amazing grandchildren. Few of us care or remember our former level of popularity (for the record, mine was fairly low and now happily forgotten) or our academic achievements (another low for me since my high school studies interfered with my adolescent Idiot Phase). Life now tends to have a more settled, reflective character to it.
While I'm sure there were folks at our gathering who carried the weight of sadness and pain, a general mood of happiness dominated the evening. It was interesting to see the dance floor fairly deserted because people were gathering in groups, reconnecting and sharing stories about life. I found great joy in rekindling some old friendships and even making some new ones (Facebook, of course, will save us from disconnection). With age there seems to be a willingness to be more vulnerable than we might have been in the past. The people I spoke with seemed willing to open up their lives in ways that were very meaningful.
The impending approach of this particular reunion has caused me to wonder: Why does this brief slice of our shared history remain so significant to us? We've all had other seasons of life, from college to military service to jobs, yet it is the high school experience that draws us like moths to a porch light.
I suspect that we come back because, unlike other life experiences, high school is our transition from childhood to adulthood. We enter as nervous, gangly kids and exit as adults-in-waiting, perhaps still nervous and maybe a bit confused, but now eligible to vote, get married, and fight wars. The high school experience imprints us deeply.
Above all, however, I think that reconnecting with our high school classmates in our old hometown drops a kind of historic anchor for us. Regardless of what we've done (or not done), no matter where we've traveled (or not traveled), we come together and remember that we lived in a particular time and place; that, in a company of aging witnesses, we can declare that we grew from childhood to adulthood and were known by others. Whether we accomplished great things during that brief splash of time or if we just coasted through, we were there and we matter.
We also come together to offer evidence that we've moved on. We're no longer stuck in whatever category framed us a young people, but we've moved from that place to something different. For that, most of us are grateful.
Gratitude. That's what I was feeling. As a religious sort of guy, I was grateful to God for the gift of life and the evidence that it is a life that I share with others. And I was grateful for the people with whom I've journeyed, those who arrived on Saturday night to let the journeys intersect for another brief moment in time.
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