As many of you know, I have a good friend who researched class reunions. His research suggests the early reunions are hindered by insecurity. People are still unsure of who they are; insecure within their skin. People are still trying to prove themselves.
By the 30th year, attitudes change. As people have relationship problems, job and financial problems, children’s problems and health problems, they begin to understand we share a struggle to survive. The later the reunion, the happier and more thankful people are to be alive and share a common past.
My 80th class birthday party replaced our 60th reunion that was canceled because of COVID. We were very happy to be alive and celebrated our common past. I was happy but as always there was a poignant side.
I was happy to see old friends and learn about their good moments and their struggles. I delighted in knowing my peers are good people and doing good in the world. My class had 500 graduates. I am proud of the achievements, but have a deeper appreciation of the basic goodness of the people. They did not have to do great things to be successful neighbors, parents, spouses, friends and citizens.
As always, there were expressions of love and caring. We had special moments: this reunion a popular person who had never been able to attend a reunion made it for the first time in 60 years. We were delighted to see him. In addition, our most successful musician, who happens to be in the Kansas Music Hall of Fame, performed a Happy Birthday medley on the saxophone with a very entertaining flare. Our champion Chili cook served a great lunch.
I took a few copies of my book, Sunset Without Dawn, and I was delighted by how it was well received by many classmates. I had many reasons for joy.
On the poignant side, I faced the reality of friends who have died. I have lost several of my close high school friends in recent years. The reunion was a reminder of how much I miss them.
In communicating with classmates about attending the reunion, I learned of many illnesses. We had several who wanted to come but were too ill or unable to travel.
Although I was saddened by pain, I was encouraged by several people fighting illnesses who made the effort to come. We had people battling Parkinson’s, dementia, grief, cancer and knee replacements who found a way to join us. We had one who recently lost his wife, who came from California and got encouragement from his friends who were otherwise unable to be with him in his grief. The support and encouragement for classmates in need of a lift was a joy to my heart.
One of my deepest struggles is with those who could come but chose not to come. I ask myself— what was so painful about high school memories that a person would not make the effort to see old friends? We have a few people of color attend but what about the others? Is there something I could say or do that would help them be comfortable in attending? Of the people with the top ten grade point averages in our class, only one has attended a reunion. Many of the local people do not come. I wish everyone could come and feel the support of classmates.
Funky Winkerbean is a comic strip. Recently the topic of the cartoon was a class reunion. One of the characters is Les Moore, a nerd who was bullied in high school. I was interested to see the cartoonist was able to show that each person and group had the same insecurities in high school. The bullies and the bullied, the cool and the nerds; everyone reported how insecure they were in high school. People were surprised but encouraged to learn the insecurity of others. I wish all of my classmates would attend, feel welcome and share in the support of each other.
Classmate support can come in many forms, sometimes in very unexpected ways. My optometrist is a good friend. I saw him shortly after my 50th reunion. He said “I have to tell you what happened to me at my last reunion.” At the reunion a friend came up to him and said “Thank you for saving my life.” My optometrist had no idea what he meant.
At the time of the previous reunion, his friend was a neurosurgeon. He poured out his heart about how miserable was his life. He was on call 24/7. When he got a call in the middle of the night it was an always about a serious accident. Family members expected him to work miracles on their child who was riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Rarely were parents or family members happy with the outcomes of his surgery. Seldom was he the bearer of good news and frequently the bearer of terrible news. He had to work months just to pay the extreme malpractice insurance. The stress was hurting his family and his own health.
After hearing his woes. My optometrist friend said to him “well at least you amounted to something. We all thought you were going to be an auto mechanic.” Apparently, he was the kid in high school who could listen to your car and tell what was wrong with it.
The surgeon told my friend, he thought about what was said and decided to stop being a neurosurgeon. He moved to Italy and studied high end auto mechanics for two years. He returned to Miami and opened a shop for high end cars. He works 8 to 5. Makes more money with less stress. His clients love him. It saved his marriage.
Reunions often have unintended benefits.