I attended my 50th high-school reunion last week, and before I try to describe the experience, I must thank two groups of people: the organizers and the non-class members who attended.
The 13 committee members who organized the reunion — all female, I’m ashamed to admit — did a phenomenal job. They had been working on this event for well over a year, and their herculean efforts showed. Not only did they reserve the venue and arrange for the food, the music, and the karaoke, but they also provided souvenirs and raffle tickets for special prizes. One additional special feature was our photo/name tag which included the image that identified us in our 1969 yearbook. Unfortunately, a few of us have aged a bit, so the photo didn’t always help as we tried to identify one another, and our deteriorating eyesight made it almost impossible to read the names below the photos. After a while, some just gave up and said, “I’m sorry; who are you?”
I also have to thank the non-class members, my wife included, who attended. They are the unsung heroes of the evening. They patiently listened as we sang our alma mater to open the evening, and they tolerantly endured our fictional tales of our “Glory Days,” stories that become more fantastic and more unbelievable as the years pass.
“That story’s not true,” I heard one classmate say when one such story was recounted.
“I know,” the narrator responded, “but it’s such a great story.”
Once we were all checked in and informally reintroduced, we sat down and listened as our senior-class president said a few words. He recalled briefly our graduation ceremony and some of the highlights of that tumultuous time; as idealistic young souls, we watched a man walk on the moon, we marveled at the music festival called “Woodstock,” and we cheered as the Miracle Mets won their first World Series.
Next, we somberly remembered those classmates who had passed away. One young man died just months after receiving his high-school diploma, and another passed earlier this year. That most recent death prompted another classmate to more seriously evaluate his own life and motivated him to move up his retirement date. “Why am I still working 12-hour days,” he asked himself, “when I should be spending more time with my family?”
Finally, a classmate who is now an ordained minister offered a blessing, and he made us all laugh when he said, “If you don’t believe in God, just look at me.” We laughed because he had been quite the wild child in his youth, yet when he gave himself to the Lord, his life turned around. That opening statement also led each one of us to ponder our own mortality. How had we all survived the previous half century when so many of the people in our lives have been taken or stricken with major medical issues?
The rest of the evening was a similar mixture of laughter, nostalgia, and heartache. We laughed during dinner as we recalled humorous incidents from college, family, or the workplace, but in one-on-one conversations later on, we consoled one another for the losses or the difficulties of loved ones.
In fact, the conversations dominated. Yes, the disc jockey played mostly songs from the late 1960s and encouraged us to dance. And, yes, a group from the organizing committee performed their karaoke version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (with Nancy Sinatra boots and costumes), and they, too, encouraged us to perform, but most people seemed content to talk: to visit, to reconnect, and to empathize with one another.
So who did I talk to? I spoke mostly to my old teammates, the guys from our scholastic teams. That made sense, of course, because I had spent so much time with all of them and had so many shared experiences. Still, I made an effort to speak to many others as well. I was pleased to see one female I hadn’t seen in 50 years, a gregarious “girlfriend” from ninth grade, the first girl with whom I ever shared a cherry coke. I also reconnected with my date from the Sophomore Soirée, and together, we laughed about how nervous and shy we were at that innocent time of our lives.
Regretfully, the evening ended too soon. I know I didn’t speak to everyone, and some conversations were interrupted and never restored. I guess that’s bound to happen when you have limited time to talk to so many people and so much you want to share. In a way, the whole experience reminded me of a Bible verse from the book of James (4:14): “What is your life? You are but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Yes, our life here on Earth is brief and fragile, and our remaining time with old school friends is both precious and surreal. Yet, one day, as we learned from the nuns and priests who instructed us, we can all be reunited in heavenly glory with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Until then, may we cherish both our moments and our memories, and may we give thanks for our daily blessings and our tender mercies.