High School reunions are the cross that all of us bear. We never imagined when walking the halls of our High Schools, we couldn’t wait to leave, that the class president would be popping up in our emails to remind us that our 5 year reunion was approaching and mark your calendars to reunite with all the people that you had gratefully left in the past. I have mixed feelings about going back to revisit the hallowed halls of heaven and hell.
The 5 and 10 year reunions are dominated by doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs who really are all about success and image rather than schmoozing with the masses. Cliques are still intact and the outsiders are still on the outside. Where did you go to school? Where do you work? Where do you live and vacation? Throw your business card in a hat and see you at the twentieth. You haven’t changed a bit, but you do have even more self-perceived-importance?
The twentieth reunion is where the atmosphere starts to change. This is where the average, under the radar alumni start attending because nobody gives a crap about what kind of car you’re driving as long as you’re well enough to drive. The main topics of conversation shift to kids and pets and the mind transforms all those past nasty teacher and classmate relationships to all hugs and kisses. See you at the fortieth or fiftieth—hug, hug, kiss, kiss! You haven’t changed a bit, but you aren’t as big a jerk as I remember!
The fortieth is just a warmup to the fiftieth but like preseason football it prepares you for the big one. People have had enough time to embrace their physical changes: thinning or no hair, wrinkles, turkey neck, weight change, memory change, slow motion, and shrinkage. That huge hunk of a quarterback hobbles around a head shorter than in his glory days. This might sound like a bummer but God has created the mind with an accepting, don’t give a crap chip that replaces vanity with a true caring, mature, pay it forward aura. You haven’t changed a bit–if you squint!
The big fiftieth arrives and you go through your closet to find that suits and dress clothes either are dated or don’t fit, but that mellow mind chip kicks in to make that plaid comfortable shirt morph into a dress shirt—perfect. Usually these events start with a night at the local tavern where everyone can get used to the transformations of their classmates. Most are comfortable with their aging look and their only concern is that their shoes don’t get velcroed together as they hug old friends. It’s standard that all have name-tags with their High School photo which at first doesn’t look anything like the stranger in front of you. But magic happens when, similar to attending a greatest musical legends tribute show where the impersonators start their acts not looking anything like the star they’re mimicking but as the show goes on you would swear that they are that star, the old friend in front of you becomes that High School buddy on the name-tag. Everyone looks the best they can after 50 years of unique life experiences, both victories and bumps, and the only beauty competition is the dueling grandkid photos. The party goes on sharing past memories and life stories often aggrandizing the good old days with a dash of made up crap. It’s hard to believe that 1960s fifteen cent drafts have morphed into seven dollar craft beers—good old days rock.
The final night is usually a dinner and most have abandoned the goal of sitting with their best buddies and only care about reconnecting with all and actually hope to sit with people they really didn’t hang with because after 50 years all are interesting, amazing people with great war stories. Class leaders know enough to let all chew their food and relieve their prostates before some anticipated words both funny and serious including some deserved prayers and remembrances of deceased classmates. After lots of group, individual, and wonky selfie photos heads start nodding as the clock strikes eleven, way past most attendee’s bedtimes. As we all shuffle through the exits heading back to our individual world’s most realize that these goodbyes might be the last and that these are the amazing people who helped make us who we are—we haven’t changed a bit!
Thanks to my wife’s class of ’65 for letting me be a guest at their celebrations. I even got to ride a float in a parade—one less item on that bucket list. It was a pleasure to party with and watch the interactions of classmates. They showed me that after 50 years the only thing that matters is that you made it this far and the people in the room all are the best. So if you were the most popular or the perceived biggest loser, don’t miss that big reunion because the playing field has leveled and that’s what has changed.