High School Reunion! The very words conjure up competition, embarrassment, and nostalgia. A few years ago, Ralph Keyes wrote in Is There Life After High School? that high school was the only common American tribal experience. That may not be so true today, but for those of us old enough to be having double-digit reunions, it certainly was true in the past…our pasts.
And that’s what a reunion is all about—an eerie confluence of the past and the present. If Heraclitus said you can never step in the same river twice, he had never been to a high school reunion.
Here are people with the same names but looking so different you need a name tag (complete with earlier yearbook photo) to know who they are. Others look pretty much the same, with some modifications. Some memories are razor sharp (I remember who my lab partner in Biology II was, and even that she sat on the right side of the bench) but others have vanished into smoke. (“Remember when they took the door hinges off Mrs. Banks’ classroom door?” “No.”)
But the overall feeling is of greeting your fellow survivors on a desert island. By this time, most everyone there has had a lot of things thrown at them by life, and they’re still standing and even still smiling. Different cliques have mellowed into a fellowship of comrades. Ex-Jocks and ex-nerds can hang out together…and do. Sometimes the jocks have turned into nerds, and vice versa.
I was made acutely aware of the passing of time. I write about characters who have long ago passed from the scene, taking their eras with them. But the same thing is happening to my own era. I had a strange feeling that all of them should be frozen back in time, and if I went back there, they’d still be there, like “Back to the Future.” But time doesn’t stand still—it’s a one way street. And here they were, not captive in my yearbook (in black and white) but walking and talking and wearing different clothes, and in full spectrum color!
As someone who writes historical novels, I’m used to time traveling, but I never imagined it would happen to me, traveling within my own time bubble. I never thought of my own past as genuine history.
One of the big surprises in reconnecting with my erstwhile classmates is how little we knew of one another back then. Either we ourselves didn’t know our talents and interests, or else we were secretive and kept them to ourselves.
Everyone at the reunion now knew about my writing, but they assume that I started it pretty late in life (like Grandma Moses?). When I was in high school I gave no indication that I was writing or had an interest in it. I never submitted anything to the literary magazine, never entered a writing contest, and wasn’t selected for advanced placement English. All the while I was writing one of my novels but only my very closest friends knew about that. I wasn’t writing it to be put into a drawer, and I planned to submit it for publication when I got finished (and I did), but I wanted to keep in my own private project. People were very surprised this time when I said I had always been writing, even when they first knew me.
Doubtless many others of my classmates were pursuing similar private projects. Only much later, in reading their bios, is their ‘real selves’ revealed. One person, a quiet fellow in my homeroom, became a well known photographer. Another became U.S. Ambassador to Algeria. (Boy, I’d like to know more on that story!) Another person became a woodworker. Another won an Olympic silver medal in tennis. Absolutely none of these things could have been predicted by what we knew about them at the time.
“Lord, we know what we are, but we know not what we may be,” says. Ophelia in Hamlet. I’ll say amen to that, brother.