I attended my 40th high school reunion earlier this summer. It was rather interesting. When I first walked into the banquet hall, I was surprised to see the organizing committee had invited a bunch of old people. But then as I was looking around the room and thinking to myself, “Wow, Johnny McGillicuddy sure looks old,” I overheard someone say, “Wow, Billy Dunn sure looks old.” That’s when I realized all the old people present were simply the class of 1975.
This was the first reunion I attended since our 10th reunion, way back when we were young and ambitious pups, only 28 years old. Back then, there were two main things people bragged about at the reunion: 1) their important and stress-filled jobs, which meant they were making serious money and could afford to lease a BMW, and 2) the growing number of children filling their homes, which meant they soon would have to turn in the BMW and lease a minivan.
Now that everyone is 58 years old, there also were two main things people bragged about at the reunion: 1) how happy they were to break free of important and stress-filled jobs, because who needs all that grief now that the mortgage is paid off and the 2006 Honda Civic is so reliable? And 2) how even MORE happy they were to finally get their adult children out of their homes, which meant now when they look in the freezer to see if any ice cream is left, there actually is some!
Many of my classmates have achieved remarkable things over the past four decades, but I think those of us in attendance were most impressed by the classmates who managed to retire already with full pensions. (If reincarnation is real, the next time around I am definitely getting a government job straight out of college.) But even for the ones still working, most of us seemed to have settled into a situation where we know what we’re doing, we do it reasonably well, we make enough to pay our bills, and we let the younger guys get ulcers while climbing the corporate ladder. Forty years of post-high school experience has provided wisdom such as this: even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.
There were some awkward situations. At this age, we now have memories stored in our brains of many different groups of friends. We have our high school memories, of course, but we also have memories of the people we knew in college and/or the military; people we knew from our various jobs; people we knew in the different communities we’ve lived in; people from churches and other organizations, etc.
So 40 years removed, when we see a familiar face, our brains struggle mightily to remember who exactly he or she is. As our eyes are smiling and our mouths are saying, “Hi! It’s so great to see you!” our brains are frantically digging through dusty file cabinets. “I think it’s Jimmy,” our brains tell us. “No wait, Jimmy was that guy in college. It’s Dave. No, he’s the guy you worked with in Boston. It’s Leonard. No, he was your neighbor in West Hartford.”
We try to help our brains by nonchalantly peeking at the name tag. But with 58-year-old eyes, forget it. Finally, the other person says, “I’m Mindy. Remember?”
And we gush, “Oh of course, Mindy! You haven’t changed a bit since high school!”
All in all, the reunion was a delightful experience. After four decades there was very little pretense. All the high school cliquey stuff was a distant memory. Everyone could just relax and be themselves. And that was pretty nice.