'40 Years Now, Where'd They Go?'
I just went to my 40th high school reunion. I graduated from Barboursville High School in Barboursville, WV. It is a school which no longer exists. I would have loved to walk down the halls again. It was an old, elegant building, originally made when aesthetic was right up there with function; not in the almost ‘brutalist’ style of so much modern state architecture. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brutalist_architecture)
I was a kind of legacy, as my father and uncle went to school there also. I think the sights and smells, the echos on the halls, the feel of the lockers all would have been powerful stimulants of memory.
Perhaps I’m wrong. It exists as long as we do. Those of us who went to school there, who entered haltingly into young adulthood in those classrooms, we are what remains of that place.
And at my reunion, I saw that we do remain. It was amazing to see the faces and hear the voices. To remember, between conversations and the name tags with our infantile faces on them, who was who and what we meant to one another.
Although I shamelessly plagiarized Bob Seger in my title, it is a little shocking that 40 years have passed. Especially when so many people seemed so fresh in our memories when we stood in front of one another. Our faces are a little different, some of our bodies are beaten up, worn down by illness, injury, grief or tragedy. Some of our hearts broken. Others beaming with life, bragging on children and grands, flush with success. People from a wide variety of jobs and geography were all mingling with ease and joy. But in all of those smiles, in the laughter, in the easy jokes and spontaneous embraces, in tears and tales of pain, something fundamental remained.
Maybe it’s the fact that we did grow up. Frankly, whatever issues or angers, slights or wounds we possessed have mostly faded away. And if we were cruel or unkind back then, it makes sense that we recognize how all of it was the stuff of immature brains, of adolescent chemicals and that it doesn’t matter. It didn’t really matter then and it does far less now.
Or it could be that one of the few (and I mean very few) benefits of social media is that we can follow one another a bit, we can see the progression of lives. We can share good news and pray for peace or comfort or healing for one another because those names come across our screens. Many people there knew my wife simply from the pictures I post of her sweet face! And she didn’t even go to school with us.
The venues were filled so many people I was so happy to see. Honestly I was happy to see everyone; to know that although we grieve for some we have lost, others remain. We were and are a kind of collective and to know that we have one another makes the bond stronger, the web wider.
There were some I didn’t speak with; not out of intent but because there was only so much time. Although we remain connected by our common educational ancestry in those halls, those fields, those bleachers, those cafeteria tables, events, dances and all the rest.
A few of those were friends I knew from first grade through 12th. We quite literally grew up together. (Ironically, our grade school, Hite-Saunders elementary school, remains intact and functioning.) It’s a beautiful thing to have known one another so long.
One of my favorite movies about reunions is Grosse Pointe Blank, with John Cusak. If you haven’t seen it, the story line concerns John Cusak’s character who is a contract killer experiencing an existential crisis. (As I suppose one would.) He decides to go home to his ten year reunion. Along the way he asks his secretary (played by sister, Joan Cusak) ‘did you go to your reunion?’
‘Yes,’ she says, ‘it was as if everyone had swelled.’
Some of us have ‘swelled.’ But more importantly our hearts have swollen with love and trial and so we were able to move easily between conversations, hugs and memories. We are wiser and probably, for the most part, better than we were. Time will do that.
So to all of my classmates, it was wonderful to see you. Really, really wonderful.
‘The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face to shine upon you.
The Lord life up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’
I plan to see you at 45 or 50 or whatever.