I was recently invited to attend my 30th anniversary high school reunion (yeah, I'm that old). I wanted to go, but I wouldn't justify the expense of flying to the other side of the planet for an evening's partying, so I missed it. It was a one-off, once in a lifetime opportunity that I passed up. I have since been pondering the question: Why did I really want to go?
These were a group of people that I was forced into a shared experience with, some for up to 12 years. It was a relationship I had no choice in. As an adult, I can pick and choose the people I spend time with (outside of work), as a child/student, I didn't have that choice.
Are these people special to me? They aren't really now, as I really don't have any contact with any of them. In fact, prior to this week, I had only infrequently communicated with less than 10 people from my school days in the last 25 years (with the exception of the 10th reunion, which I attended). But something in the back of my mind sees them as special.
I wouldn't say that school was a tragic period for me, but it wasn't exactly happy either. Over the years in school, I experienced quite a bit of bullying and teasing (mostly with regards to my appearance, which I had little control over). Also there were those that vicariously enjoyed all the teasing and bullying from the sidelines. Even at the 10th reunion, there were some that wanted to persist in that old style of interacting with me. I recognize that they were just children at the time, and had little idea of the impact of their actions, and I am not bitter. I have forgiven all those people now, although I really am not interested in reconnecting with the perpetrators again.
I didn't have the emotional tools to deal with all that effectively at the time. I do now, but some minor emotional scars remain.
I didn't have many close friends at school. In fact, I used to seek out friends from other schools, hoping that they would see me for who I was, not the teased, bullied kid. I wasn't in any of the cliques: I wasn't a jock, or a rich kid, or a druggie/burnout, or a fashionista, or a cool kid, or even in the nerd group. I had/have very different political/social views from most of my classmates. I guess I fit into the outsider nerd mold, although I did socialize & participate in school life, and I went to some parties.
It wasn't all bad, there were successes, some fun times, and a few laughs. There were quite a few people I got on well with, and many that I admired and respected. These were all people I wanted to reconnect with. But why?
There are also the people who seemed to have disappeared. I feel incomplete not knowing their story. I was also saddened to hear that some had passed away. I wanted closure on their lives, but I doubt this will be forthcoming.
Some people think reunions are about finding ways to dominate old classmates. This could be through shadenfreude, or some other attempted domination. I consider myself successful in life, but not in a financial or political way. My successes revolve around my relationships, and my accomplishments (most of which would be of no interest to, nor would they impress, anyone else). I haven't won any significant awards, I am happy with how/who I am, have no need to dominate others, and can't see why I would want to. I am more of a supporter of 'mudita'. Besides, I have spent too much of my life watching TV.
I have heard that some others go to re-live or complete old romantic agendas. Or they go to prey on lonely souls. This was of no interest to me.
Some may go to re-live the joys of the past. Not a lot of juice there for me.
Years ago I lived and worked in Europe one summer. One of my close friends was a Dutch fellow. At the end of the summer I went to visit him in Eindhoven, and we reminisced about the great time we had. I suggested we organize a reunion sometime of all the people we had spent the summer with, but he said: "No, you can never go back". He meant that we could never recreate the best of the past, but should live for the now and for the future. This was an valued lesson for me. I lost contact with him, and if we were to cross paths again in the future, I think I know what he would say.
I had mixed feelings about the results of the 10th reunion. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the stories of the folks I reconnected with, but noticed that I was still annoyed with the others whose irritating personality traits hadn't changed.
After 30 years I don't remember much from that period, and I don't even recognize some of the names or faces. What difference would it make to my life to reconnect with these people? What is the power of this nostalgia?
Over the years I have become close to, and lost contact with, many wonderful people. I would love to reconnect with them too, but why? Perhaps there is a function of humanity that increases your nostalgic need for connection with the increase in shared experience.
There is also something about living so far away. Modern telecommunications, cheap travel and the internet have lessened the distance, but I still am separated from a lot of what happens around my family and friends. Perhaps if I still lived in the Twin Cities it would be no different, but distance seems a good excuse. I am not lonely, as I have a warm, loving family and great social network around me, yet there seems to be a certain loneliness living so far away from my place of origin.
The organizers of the event used Facebook as one of the communication tools. I found it worked quite well for me, even though I didn't go, as I could still connect with some people, in some ways even better than face to face.
I posted a video message, with some minor comedy. From this I received quite a bit of positive feedback.
I also received quite a few 'wish you were here' messages, which were quite touching and welcome.
Photos of the event have been posted online. As I browse the photos, I notice that I feel quite nostalgic. I don't recognize many of the faces, they all look like real adults now, some wider than others. 30 years has softened my outlook, and I long to ask "What have you been up to all these years?" (in a good way).
A Guess at the Answer
I don't think that my experience in this is unique.
I think what I want is the stories. I prefer the happy stories, but the sad stories are real and provide connection with humanity. I want the people who have touched my life to have success, and they are fine however they are.
Without the stories, there is just an incomplete past. I am whole and complete, and the stories provide me with the past's future that I missed. They are like dessert after a multi-course dinner. I like dessert.