Of reunions and remembering

Published 6:20 pm Friday, August 2, 2019

It’s hard to lie about your age once you’ve told someone you’ve just been to your 50th high school reunion. I’m not about to try.

There we all were, the Class of ’69; gathered together in Annapolis, Maryland on the shores of the Severn River.

Our group is actually the melding of graduates of two schools, one all-girls, the other all-boys. While I attended my 49th reunion a year ago, I felt better about this one because so many of us, though approaching age 70, are still alive (well, I guess that’s the reasoning; I mean, to be honest, I hope I’m still here for my 60th).

Though I’ve attended several of these gatherings, this is the first I’d been to where I hadn’t seen most of the attendees since we seized our diplomas and scattered off in search of our so-called lives.

Ah, youth; ah, time warp. It was as if I’d walked off the stage that June afternoon half a century ago and stepped into a line of grumbling, shuffling senior citizens.

Shuffling? Actually, everyone was pretty much walking normally as we talked and old memories loosened some dormant grey cells; and, if only for 48 hours, we grew younger again.

What contributed to our melancholy is that the physical campus no longer exists. No classrooms, no band room, no gym. I had almost no reason to go back, neither in memory, nor in time.

But the reunion organizers began calling, texting, instant messaging, and pulling people in from more than two years ago through email contact and suddenly my interest in the past began to blossom.

I want to tell you, I can’t believe how much I actually enjoyed seeing these folks, for unexpected and stereotype-disrupting reasons. ‘Nostalgia’ and phrases like ‘the good old days’ and other such words simply don’t come close.

My friend Don, who hails from Edenton and went to his big five-oh a year ago, interestingly said it to me best afterward.

“There’s something very spiritual about a high school reunion,” he recalled. “It’s about life and death.”

While that’s not exactly why I went, when I arrived and started to relax with myself, let go of my need to be impressive, and just started talking and reminiscing with people, I looked into their eyes and heard tangled and wondrous pieces of their lives unfold while I remembered knowing them and being young. I felt a kind of exuberance come over me I didn’t quite understand.

Perhaps what I realized is that aging isn’t simply a one-way process, that I wasn’t simply surrounded by “used up old people,” stereotypical senior citizens graying like myself, but by people, like me, who could share an entire life span.

Because I knew these folks way back when, I saw that distant, teenage past in their eyes and in their faces, in their hands. But I also heard about lives lived.

“Analysis is about the final layer of a painting, but all the other layers are still present,” the artist Per Kirkeby once said.

That’s how it was at the reunion. All the layers were still present, thanks to my having known these folks and been part of their lives at one of the earliest layers, the early ‘60s, when so much was changing the world.

You want to talk spiritualism: at least 10 percent of my classmates have died, others’ health had been broken, mine included. Life’s journey hasn’t been simple. But once I started re-connecting with people, and with the class as a whole, this is life’s journey, from goals and potential to realization. I guess you don’t make that journey without giving something up along the way.

We made it. There have been some scars, some wreckage, some success and some failure, but plenty of joy. We ain’t dead! The point is we’ve all lived some pretty full lives. Those ‘young people’ I connected with last weekend, like me, are still very much in the middle of still doing so.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.