30 Years in 30 Seconds

August 14, 2011 § 7 Comments

Thirty seconds or possibly a minute was about how long I had.Hello.
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?
That’s nice.  
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.

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§ 7 Responses to 30 Years in 30 Seconds

  • Thanks fro your article Kent. I was not able to attend the reunion last night. Since the posting of the reunion site I have been feeling a lot of the same feelings you talk about in this piece I appreciate your ability to write them and for the opportunity I had to read them. They brought a lot of emotion to the surface and probably it is good to let those out and regroup again. Thank- you

  • Suzy says:

    Nice article Kent.. thanks for sharing and putting into words what alot of us are feeling. I’m sorry I did not get to attend the reunion.. perhaps if I’m still here in 10 yrs it might be different. Thank you

  • Sandi Schroader Herrin says:

    I admit, I am a bit of a facebook DHS reunion stalker and have watched with almost voyeristic interest, the posts from old classmates; none of whom I have had any interaction with over the last 30 years. Kent, your previous post piqued my interest the most since I kinda really got what you were trying to say, in a less “grumpy – crabby old man kind of way. (Insert smiley face.) And so I was even more interested to hear what your observations from the actual reunion would be. I admit I was soured on the idea of going since the reunion 10 years ago. At that time, I too had expectations and curiosity. But ultimately I think I was looking for validation that I was remembered by those I considered friends and even in the tiniest part of their memory, had influenced their experience in High School in some way – hopefully positive. You may or may not be interested to know that you were the last person I saw on my way out of the gym doors after an hour of discouraging attempts to reconnect. I saw a face I knew and remembered as a friend and approached you with the hope of somehow reaching that point in a quick speed-date sort of way where I could tell you what your influence had been on me in high school. But you were wrapped up in some hard-knock-life induced cocoon and lashed some pretty harsh and bitter words regarding divorce and the suckiness of life. So, what I thought was a friendly face from the past, had somehow morphed into an unfamiliar complete stranger. This is how I related to your previous post – we are all strangers really….changed for better or for worse over the 30 years. I have been tossed especially hard this last year and still too fragile from the beating. I was not able to be that person who may or may not have been validated for good during simpler times. For my part, to you Kent, I would say what I wanted to say 10 years ago. Thank you for being my friend. For making me laugh even when I didn’t get your humor, for encouraging me in everyway to excel and pushing my mind to thoughts and ideas a highschooler believes to be deep and relevent. You were a friend to me 30 years ago and if even the smallest part of who I am today is because I knew you then – we remain friends still.

  • John Nightingale says:

    Hello Kent,

    I did not make it to the reunion. Reading your essay gave me a taste of what I missed. A mental journey conjured by your essay without the physical journey from southern California.

    So many rich memories of times and friends that I was afraid would be tainted by the reality of revisiting them physically. I joked with my youngest daughter (who just graduated from HS) while looking at her yearbook, that in my mind you are all still 18 and that I would be looking at your parents if I went to the reunion. No doubt we are all wiser and worth getting to know again, but as different people. I know I am.

    Dave Bock, a friend and fellow DHS grad of ’81, tipped me off to your essay. I really enjoyed reading it; you are a talented writer. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Lynn, Suzy, Sandi and John,

    Thank you for your words. As an indication of how surreal reunions are, the FaceBook reunion feeding frenzy has stopped (almost now new posts on the reunion page after all the obligatory “thank the committee” posts — 3 words that can only come together after a reunion I’m guessing) and my life got so busy that I haven’t even had time to respond to the four of you.

    I’m not sure what spawns the ten year rush to swim upstream and reconnect, but the reality is I’ve felt more connected to the people that have responded to my writing on line than I did at the reunion — so thank you all for responding.

    John, I too have an 18 year old (23, 21, 20 and 8, too) and juxtaposing the lunacy and immaturity of her friends with those I knew in high school and then projecting out 30 years . . . let’s just say I’m glad that at 78 I’ll have bigger worries. And thanks for tipping me off that Bock (a 30 year leftover appellation) read this — for some reason that little tidbit alone did more for me than the entire reunion. Thanks again John and thank you Dave, forwarding my writing is the best thing a true friend could do for me.

    And Sandi, you did what no one else dared to do, which was call me out in my hypocrisy. You nailed it — I was a bitter son of a bitch ten years ago. I was trying to not be bitter, wanted to be compassionate and a friendly face, and obviously failed miserably. I redeemed myself a little bit the next night (I believe the gym door was Friday, the main event at the Grand America on Saturday I performed this gem: http://goo.gl/3jfiI . Nothing like cussing in front of the whole class 20 years after the fact to get banned from the program in 2011. In fact, the program this year was the anti-Kent program, Clark Hirschi doing the Mormon seminary teacher shtick on a PA system that you couldn’t discern the words spoken anyway.

    I’m sorry that life has thrashed you around this year. I hope that the next ten years fair far better for you. High school thrashed me around pretty hard (as it does everyone) and unfortunately for you, you caught the brunt of my high school neurosis and my 20 year reunion neurosis — a double dose of my particular brand of madness. Of course I still consider you a friend, Sandi and please accept my apologies for my inability to see through my own issues when you needed a friendly face, not a transformed ugly one. I hope the thrashing stops and you can beat life back with as big a stick as you need.

    Thanks again for commenting everyone — glad it didn’t take me ten years to respond to you all again.

  • Dan Schilling says:

    Kent, I was crushed that you completely ignored me at the reunion. It was almost as if I weren’t there. Oh wait, that’s because I missed it.

    Anti Winward program? Naw, just the local flavor of the folks we’ve all known over the many years we’ve all accumulated since 81. It’s a broad spectrum buddy, and a natural flow in my opinion. DHS was so long ago and the trauma and drama of those years really doesn’t carry impact as it did previously. As I’ve told you before, I enjoyed the 20 year gig because of the people who went on to do the unexpected and for the chance to reconnect unexpectedly with folks like you and Shia, among others. There are quality people out there in among the flock (as it were). But even the flock is quality in my opinion. The older I get the less harsh a critic I am.

    I didn’t expect the 30 to be as profound because most of our trajectories are going to be more predictable at this stage. But I only missed it because it turns out there’s still a war on and I had a scheduling conflict. I’ll come to the next one, but only if you promise to write something contentious so it adds zest.

    Drop a line sometime to my email as I don’t do social media, paranoia and all that. And if you ever get out to NC come on over. A quality cigar is only a plane ride away my friend.

    Cheers man, Dan

    PS. Good luck to you Sandi whatever the issue

    • Dan,

      I figure my quota for stirring the reunion pot is decade-ial, so I’m sure I can think of something to say in ten years that will be controversial and pot-stirring. My only beef with the flock is their decidedly narrow view of what the flock entails — to mix metaphors and livestock — the sheep have blinders, thus it is easy to whack them upside the head. (Actually I think I got a cow, sheep, horse and mole into that last sentence.) Oh, and your social media paranoia is only well grounded in reality.

      Believe it or not Dan, for the last ten years I have had you in my thoughts pretty regularly. You are a unique breed of individual. Our conversations on war, death and life have stuck with me. I can only hope that my Pacifist philosophical leanings are as thoughtful and inclusive as your philosophy as a lifelong member of the military. If someone has to yield weapons in my behalf, I would only want it to be someone like you. Maybe it is time for me to finally go to the South. Conversely, if you find yourself back in the Beehive state, I’m sure I could return the favor of the quality cigar and I’ve got a great view we could enjoy it from.

      Don’t be a stranger and I will try and follow my own advice on that one.

      Take care,

      Kent

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