Last month I attended my high school reunion – my memory told me that there were 33 seniors but a quick count in our yearbook shows that there were 40 seniors. OK, I suppose this moves me into some aging category, though I am not sure which one or how it does that beyond noting advancing years. I did not think my memory was that faulty but maybe that is one of the signs of those advancing years.
I graduated from a high school in a small town that still had its own high school. In a couple of years it would join with a neighboring town to form larger classes, but in 1965 it remained small and somewhat cloistered. In staying true to its small town roots, this reunion was held at the local fire house. There were no airs put on that this reunion was a grand affair – if it was to be grand it would do so on its own merits. This characteristic of not assuming a pretentious stance was part of the culture of the small town where I was raised and was one that I have grown to appreciate over the years. I did not come to a full appreciation of this culture until I left the town after my high school years and I wrote about some of this in a previous blog entry titled “Remembering Jonas”.
The reunion itself turned out to quite grand. It was structured so that people would be able to sit and talk, to recognize faces from the past, to engage in conversation about events that have transpired through the fifty years in our lives, and to re-establish and refresh old connections. The reunion, for me, triggered thoughts about the person I was back in those high school years. I was a bit anxious because I remembered a boy, and make no mistake, I was just a boy then, and I wondered what memories my classmates might have held onto about that boy. I had a teaching colleague here in Philadelphia for whom I had the greatest respect and esteem once telling me a story that she had a fear that if people just scratched underneath her surface what they would find would be just an insecure high school cheerleader. I suppose that story she told me was on my mind as I planned to go to this reunion.
My time in high school was not one that I would consider traumatic, but I was aware that I did not fit in any particular group. I played sports in an effort to be part of a group identity but I must admit that I was not the best athlete in that world. I did well in the academic part of high school but when I went to college I found out rather quickly that the world was full of people a whole lot smarter and more aware than I was at that time. I did not have a firmly established identity or a place in the world that I was comfortable with and it would take years and years for an identity to form that felt like it made me comfortable in my own skin.
My classmates shared some the stories of their lives at this reunion and I was elated to discover that to a person they have all led productive and interesting lives, full of stories and families and events of which they are proud, and that demonstrate the better qualities and lessons that we all absorbed from the culture of the small town in which we grew up. In retrospect, I was harsher on that boy that I was back then – for years I was not able to understand why that person was not more aware of himself and the world around him. It has been a slow process of unburdening me from the self-imposed judgements that I placed upon myself. Perhaps that is one of the purposes/benefits of class reunions. I look forward to more engagement and conversation with this wonderful group of people that I embrace as classmates. Hopefully, that opportunity is still to happen.