August 14, 2011 § 7 Comments
I remember you and no, I didn’t have to look at your name tag to cheat (or I did).
Wow, haven’t seen you in a long time.
Where are you living now?
What are you doing?
How many kids? Grandkids? I have one.
It really has been a long time.
Very nice to see you.
Time to move on.
It wasn’t so much as a reunion as it was a perverse form of sincere speed dating. You really had a connection with these people many years ago and the thrill of being remembered, acknowledged and smiled at, created an immediate and pleasurable sense of belonging. It was surprisingly powerful and it was the hope for these types of experiences that brought me back to the unfamiliar halls of what is now known as Davis High School. The evening provided countless such experiences.
The pleasurable was countered with the realization that for whatever reason one or two of my classmates had de-friended me on FaceBook for — I’m supposing — my perceived offenses in expressing my ambivalence towards the reunion. If meeting people I hadn’t seen in 30 years for 30 seconds made me briefly feel really good, the rejection on FaceBook, was the equivalent negative reaction.
The rejection pain makes me realize that I have undoubtedly committed countless acts of hypocrisy. I rejected people throughout the evening. I recognized it as soon as the evening was done and it was too late to do anything about it. If I didn’t engage you, didn’t talk to you, didn’t acknowledge you and it hurt your feelings, I’m sorry. You really want to talk to me send me an email and I won’t bite. This is my version of a plea for forgiveness for both the knowing and the unknowing assaults I’ve committed on social connection.
Acceptance into a social group is critical for human survival and we are all hard wired to want to belong. The desire to belong is so strong and the negative emotional responses of not belonging are so painful, that we do whatever we can to eliminate the potentiality of rejection. This can take the form of rejecting first, avoidance or collapsing into the clique we remember as “safe”.
I watched as people I knew fell back into the same groups as high school. Maybe they’ve maintained those relationships, probably not, but those social connections, even after 30 years, have weathered time. Think about who you spent most of your time with during the reunion. It was with those former friends who provided you with the most safety and comfort. Maybe the reunion was a nice reminder of a time when you had a group of friends who kept you safe from outside social rejection.
The desire to create a social group in which there was perceived safety manifest itself in the oddly placed prayer that launched dinner. The retreat to the predominant religious culture surely felt safe and comforting to the majority believers. But religion of this sort may comfort the majority, but when bringing back together a secular high school class, the prayer ran counter to its intended purpose, a divisive, rather than inclusive act. For something whose purported goal is to create a community of one heart, one mind and one soul, religion is a poor tool. Compassion and empathy are much better tools if they are employed.
Aging was another theme of the evening, which is probably inevitable, since all of us are being faced with the specter of mortality, at the very least in our parents. Bringing up mortality creates all sorts of unanticipated emotional responses. Yet, we will all die. All we have is our current lives, less 48 years.
Of those 48 years, each person carries memories that are as unique to them as the person themselves. Throughout the night I was reminded of events, circumstances and classmates of which I had no recollection. Did those things really happen? Probably. I had the reverse thing happen to me when I would recall something about another person and they had no recollection of the event. These memory gaps were the more subtle rejections of the evening, “This was important to me, but not to you — ouch.” And I daresay they were prevalent. Given the lapse of time, they were probably more prevalent than having two memories collide head-on on the same event.
So none of us remember anything the same from 30 years ago. We cling to the groups that make us feel the safest against the onslaught of time. We overdose on the saccharine sweet reconnection and acceptance, trying our best to ignore the aftertaste that lets you know that everything is just a little off kilter.
The act of reconnecting ironically turned into a reminder of how disconnected we have all become.
Now, Myron Casdorph told me that I was — and this was last night, and I’ve already forgotten, just imagine what 30 years did to me — grumpy, crabby or some similar epithet. He was joking and I was laughing and in a way it was true — I am a little darker than most in my outlook. The dark outlook for me illuminates those things that are truly giving off light. Myron exuded the light and life of someone doing what they love and completely comfortable in his own skin. I saw a lot of that last night. Those were the people who inspired me the most because they seemed to have their life figured out. They were real, genuine and most importantly, themselves. To all of you who gave me that glimpse — thank you. Makes me a little less crabby and a little less grumpy and a lot less dark.
A life has a trajectory and its propulsive force. Like the space shuttle, we launched into our adult lives in 1981. Several have experienced spectacular explosions and screw ups, while others have headed straight, never wavering, laser guided towards an intended goal. My life, as with many others I’m sure, has felt more like a Lagoon ride gone off the rails.
Ultimately, the best thing the reunion gave to me was perspective on my current life, causing me to examine where I am heading and what is driving me. Having my wife with me at the reunion provided that connection and base to my real world existence, throughout the fantastical, brief and surreal reunions. The reunion came to a crashing close for me when real life text messages from children began pouring in. I walked out of the halls of Davis High and remembered the feeling 30 years ago after graduation when I walked out of the school in the same general geographic vicinity, wondering where my life was going. I had no idea, I felt scared, lost and giddy with the excitement of the unknown.
Last night, I walked out the high school doors again, but my step was more sure. My wife sat waiting for me on a concrete abutment in the light of the full moon. I took her hand and we walked to our car. I realized that I know what drives my life. I realized that about the best you can do with life’s controls is point them in a general direction and (to utilize a cliche because it works) hang on for dear life. No longer, lost, scared or directionless, I was again giddy with excitement of heading into the unknown as I walked out the doors of my high school.