back to the future
A couple of decades ago, for the first time, I decided to attend my high school class reunion. By that time I’d missed several such gatherings and, like others in my class, was beginning to feel the pull of the past—the hankering to reconnect and share life’s experience with friends from my youth. So it was that I made my way across the country for the decennial event.
The school in question is Oakwood, a small Quaker boarding school in upstate New York. As students, we had gathered there from around the globe, and after graduation we dispersed to colleges and hometowns near and far. Back then, staying in touch meant writing a letter or calling long distance—expensive, charged by the minute in those long-ago days. Wrapped as we were in the busyness of college and young adult lives, many of us had little contact, either with each other or with the school, until after we had raised our own children and begun to reflect on where we were and how we’d gotten there.
Interesting—what strikes you as you reconnect. After the first reunion I attended, one of our classmates emailed all of us saying that her major take-away was that we were much more alike as adults than we had been as kids. I think she was right, but why? Had life rounded off our hard edges? Had the common experiences of love affairs, marriages, divorces, kids and careers created a commonality that wasn’t there before? Had our exposure to such shared upheavals as the civil rights struggles (in which some of our number had actively participated) and the war in Vietnam (which many opposed) somehow provided a broader context for our lives?
I don’t know. I just know that as we came together, the years melted away. One of our classmates lives near the school and hosted an off-campus, spur-of-the-moment gathering just for our class the evening before the all-day alumni event on campus. We had ordered in pizza, brought in wine and beer, and settled into a long evening of catching up, reminiscing, photo taking, and song. Impromptu, spontaneous, the evening was the perfect way to get back in touch
after many, many years.
I just returned from another reunion, the third that has called me back. Our numbers have dwindled with each occasion, but the few who showed up were roughly the same size and shape that they’d been when I last saw them. Some things were different, however. We all have email for one thing, and the urge to communicate and get organized in advance took over. I think there was a belief that this would “help Susie,” who had once again agreed to host our gathering.
There followed a flurry of messages between all concerned about just how this evening should roll out. Potluck? (Kind of hard for the out-of-towners.) Order in? (But what about those folks with dietary restrictions?) Restaurant? (Too hard to converse the way we wanted.) Each bring our own food? (Roundly nixed.) You get the picture. The Normandy invasion was planned with less chatter.
Eventually we figured it out—kind of a combination of all the above—and the evening was a rousing success. Conversations picked up as though we’d last spoken yesterday, not ten years ago, and we all learned something more about each other that we hadn’t known before. Walking around campus the next day, though the school had changed much since we had been students, it all seemed familiar. The gym was now a performance space; the study hall, a meeting room; the girls’ dorm, a boys’ dorm; the girls now housed in new quarters.
The students were welcoming and happy to share their lives with us, these aging visitors. As we chatted with them, I realized … they can’t see themselves ever being the aging alumni. At any rate, I couldn’t when I was their age and I don’t think the adolescent psyche has changed that much since I was there. Oakwood is a school, not a home, and while it felt like going home again, it really belongs to the kids who are there. And that’s the way it should be. But I plan to go back ten years hence.