A friend of mine used to say the long-distance trucker never travels the same road twice. He also liked Kurt Vonnegut's quote about strange travel suggestions being dancing lessons from God. I think a 50th high school reunion amply qualifies under both injunctions. Maybe we should be wary about repeating history, but at the same time we shouldn't be afraid to face the future ... or the past.
Fifty years is a lot of water under the bridge. That's how long it had been since I had seen most of the folks in that room. Facebook helped some of us become reacquainted in the months leading up to the reunion, but for the most part, it was what sales people refer to as a cold call ... you just show up and hope for the best.
I was prepared for just about anything. What I found were a lot of people who were very comfortable to be around. Comfortable. That would be the word I would use to describe both the evening and my classmates. Like opening an old book you used to love as a kid and starting to re-read it and finding it brings you just as much pleasure as it did when you were first read it. At the same time, you see things you missed the first time around, new layers of meaning, new pleasures from young words re-read with old eyes.
I told someone before the reunion that the overarching memory of my classmates was that they were nice kids. That impression remains unchanged fifty years down the road. Sure, we've all had our labors and sorrows, but we seem to have held steady in the prop wash of some pretty turbulent times. That says something about each person, but it also says something about the legacy we shared from growing up during simpler times in a small town that cared about its kids and about its schools.
Ultimately, reunions are about more than the people who attend them. They are about a time and a place when we were young and very much a work in progress. Walking the ground, seeing the changes that time has wrought, remembering the old dreams, you discover that the ultimate reunion is with yourself. You look across time, comparing the person you've become to the person you thought you would be. Both are reflected in the looking glass, neither perhaps quite as the other expected it would be.
The tension eases with the welcoming smiles and warm embraces of old friends you didn't even remember you had from fifty years back. Like the song from Cheers, everybody knows your name and they are glad you came. The Germans have a word for it -- gemütlichkeit -- which conveys a communal sense of belonging and acceptance. Now, I have a word for it, too: reunion.