Check Your Bags. And I Love You.

I’m starting to realize I actually am not opposed to this “getting older” thing.  This past weekend was my 25th high school reunion, and it was simply marvelous.

I remember being 18 years old and looking at people in their 40s and feeling so sad for them.  Their lives were over.  They had to work, most of them had children who were wearing them out, they had no idea how to dress properly and they were getting kind of grey and wrinkly.  Not me!  I was the opposite of all of that, and I could see them looking at me with some envy.  I believed I was in the best place in the world, and they were on the down slope to nowhere.

The thing is, when you are young, you can only look at things you’ve never been and guess what they are.  You take your experience, which is profoundly limited, and you make your best guess.  You don’t know what it’s like to get older.  But when you are older, ahh…….now I can see.  You can look back at your early years with knowledge.  That look of envy?  Not exactly.  It’s the look of the bittersweet happiness you feel when you think of who you were back then, and the irreplaceable warmth of gratitude for who you are now because of it.

In essence, it’s all good.

This reunion was unlike any previous event for the Class of 1986.  It was the great equalizer.  For the first time, some of our real heroes are dead.  We’ve lost classmates, too.  Some of us are taking our children to tour college campuses, while others are experiencing the late-blooming joy of new love and a baby.  We’re all over the map in some senses, and yet very connected in others.

A couple of nights before the reunion, I kept hearing dialogue from The Big Chill.  William Hurt’s character Nick is stoned and fighting with his old friends.  The primary source of the fight is repressed emotions about a mutual friend’s suicide.   At one point Nick snaps to Tom Berenger’s character Sam, “You’re wrong.  You don’t know me.  A long time ago we knew each other for a very short period.  It was easy back then.  You don’t know anything about me.  It’s only out here in the real world where things get tough.”

Sam is angry but he tells his friend, “You’re wrong.  I know I loved you and everyone here, and I’m not going to p*** that away because you’re higher than a kite.  I’ll go on believing that until I die.”

This scene has been lodged in my memory since I first saw the film.  It’s the ageless question of how “real” the friendships of very young classmates can actually be, especially when they remain under the glass of a nostalgic past.  I knew how I felt about my old friends, but I was anxious about what our time together would really show.

It didn’t take long to find out.

I noticed a new vibe at this reunion, one that said all bags had been checked before boarding the weekend.  One lovely consequence of getting older is that we are just  too weary to lug around all of the issues we dragged along to the previous reunions.  Half of us have experienced at least one divorce.  Some of us have lost siblings or children to illness or accident.  Many of us have deceased parents.  We’ve had career crashes, sickness, parenting fails, pounds on and pounds off, and severed relationships with people we once loved.  We all know it now.  No one has missed these experiences entirely, and if they claim they have, well, they are not telling the truth.

This time, we all came to the reunion to tell the truth.

I’m gay.  I’m a single parent.  I’m really sick.  I’m unemployed.  I’ve killed people.  I’ve delivered babies.  I’m afraid everyone will realize I was never a very good friend.  I married someone I didn’t love.  I’ve never been happier or more sure of myself.  I’m worried about my parents.  I’ve turned to God.  I’ve left the church.  I’m an alcoholic.  I fight terrorists.  I fight with my kids.  I finally know what I’m doing.  I have no idea what I’m doing.

My friend posted this on his Facebook page today:  “With the passage of twenty-five years, most of the people with whom I went to high school had turned into vague mythical shadows in the depths of my mind. What a pleasant surprise to find that the people with whom I was friends are still wonderful, and the people I didn’t know well are kind and thoughtful adults. The class of ’86 rules!!!”

Rules indeed.  Now, pass the aspirin and my cane.  I need to rest up for the 30th……you people wore me out.  And I still really love you.

19 thoughts on “Check Your Bags. And I Love You.

  1. Pingback: Check Your Bags. And I Love You. | Esse Diem | GWHS Class of 1986

  2. I liked that. For years I didn’t go to reunions because i didn’t want to explain my obvious difference–I was a big bushy haired feller and they had known a crew cut. But once i started going everything was good, we all enjoyed seeing one another and I even started up an old romance.
    This past Saturday I went to the 1981 reunion of my former students at Duval High School. I was a little hesitant about going, no one had called or emailed and said you are invited. I grinned all evening, Smiled at smiles coming back to me from people most of whom I knew last when they were in the ninth grade in my science class–some are now fifty and grandparents!!!

    • Thank you, Mrs. T! I saw your beautiful daughter, you know. I also learned of Foster’s passing. Your family has always been a blessing to me. I am thinking of you, and remembering many wonderful times.

  3. I can really relate to “Check your Bags”. Last year I helped set up a 64th reunion luncheon. Only 9 out of 100+ classmates came. Over half have died and many more are disabled and can’t travel. IT WAS AMAZING HOW MUCH WE HAD IN COMMON. Being old is painful at this stage but it gives a chance to see life through a wider scope and that is exciting. Look forward to it.

    • Thank you, Helen. I appreciate your perspective, I know this is the inevitable end of life, that reunions dwindle and things become ever more difficult to negotiate. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your comment, we all need to remember that if we are waiting for that “perfect time” to reconnect with old friends, that time will never come and years can pass us by. You are a beacon of wisdom!

  4. I watched that film fourteen times over one long weekend, when it first came out on video. Such a perfect touchstone…our 30th was this summer, and it was sincerely wonderful to see everyone, hug their necks and feel so happy to be part of a group who knew me well, back when.

  5. This was lovely. I felt the same way attending my GW 79 reunions. I attended 17 school by the time I graduated yet I never forgot my GW friends and classmates. What a joy to strengthen old and establish new friendship each time I attend a reunion. It still amazes me that those few short years bind us together, sometimes whether we want it to or not! As per usual Elizabeth you have so eloquently expressed what many of us feel.
    Thank you

  6. Pingback: Lies, Darn Lies, & Statistics – Esse Diem in 2011 | Esse Diem

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