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Opinion: After the reunion

My 50th high school reunion. Is that possible? Half a century. No way.

I am not sure what I expected.

What I had not expected was that some had died. Of my graduating class of about 75, we have lost nine. I was surprised. One was my first roommate, and another was one of my two partners in crime. You know, the ones you got into trouble with but survived. As I thought about the nine, I guessed cancer, drugs and AIDS, and I am sure my guess was most likely spot on.

I knew the reunion would be a fast forward – from 18 years old to about 70. So, everyone would have aged, and after 50 years, changed, right? Right and wrong.

A few extra pounds, less hair. Yep. But changed? Nope, not really. People don’t change much.

We picked up where we left off without missing a beat. There was a lot of understated joy. There was curiosity. There was unspoken empathy. And we simply were happy to see each other again after all that time.

Not knowing if and how each other had changed though, was a source of moderate anxiety for me and probably for many, as we carefully probed and conversed. The anxiety made little sense though, as we would only be together for a day and a-half then we would disappear to parts unknown again, back into separate lives somewhere else.

Teachers made the reunion. Some drove the better part of a day to get to Jacksonville. They all sat at the same table, just like we tended to cluster like we did 50 years ago. My old literature teacher showed up, and I was able to thank him for giving me my love of books. Later, he shared with me that a number of former students had come up to him and expressed the same appreciation. He said he was surprised and gratified. But “who knew?” he said, “who knew.\?” I later found out that he had left teaching and worked for a bank, and then moved on to real estate.

“Who knew?” We knew. Why hadn’t we said something?

I wanted to tell administration to get him back, now. Hit rewind and do the right thing you guys. Why did you let him leave? And part of me thinks that he also may be asking himself “why did I leave?” Time does funny things.

I recall asking myself why life seems so much clearer in the rear-view mirror than it does at the time. I suppose it’s always that way, unless you are one of those who was simply born wise, born clairvoyant, but most of us are not.

Time machines are funny, too. For all intents and purposes, that is what any reunion is. And you expect blatant change, and you are surprised and puzzled when it’s not there, not really.

As the night went on, I kept thinking of Sinatra singing “My Way” as I talked to my old friends and caught up. We all had made the “big” shift – reached that summit that in so many ways was nothing like what we had expected. The 50-year span had taken us instantly from wide-eyed adolescents in that learning, playing, testing, loving and struggling mode to now past that “all everything, all-encompassing conquering mode – the “raison d’ etre” – careers, with all the sound and fury, and onto “what’s next,” in the blink of an eye. That was probably what affected me most, and Sinatra’s song, albeit not so much the banality and the regret, seemed to tell that story.

“My way” perhaps was not really the way most of us traveled those 50 years, and now, at our second “at bat” we are finally figuring it out – and today, the present, “now” – comes more clearly into focus as the real mountain we should have been summiting all the while.

My classmates and I are now on to post-career life. I am sure it will be interesting, and I guess time will tell, as the next reunion, of course, is only 5 years away.