I clearly remember my mother preparing to attend her fortieth high school reunion. I was struck by the thought wow, my mom is really old!
A few days ago, I attended my own fiftieth reunion. Needless to say, the milestone was sobering.
Read on and I’ll share two insights – the first of which is widely recognized, the second thought is a personal insight to the emotional trauma that can accompany these gatherings.
As the decades advance, most such events add a moment where the names of classmates who are deceased are read. Naturally, the list continues to grow. From my class of 220, 38 are no longer alive. One can only imagine how many of the 74 graduates the steering committee couldn’t reach belong on that list as well.
Seeing the names of people you remember as energetic teenagers, who have already perished, reminds us of our own mortality. Not a single person can be sure their own name won’t appear on that memorial roster, when next the class of 1972 gathers.
Death is rarely a welcome specter, but as a Christian who is confident of the resurrection, reading those names does not elicit fear. True, I do feel some sadness, knowing that each of their families and friends have suffered deep personal loss. But I am resigned to the brevity of life in this world.
I’ve arrived at peace with the fact that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring . . . for [we] are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4).
King David declared our utter dependence on God for everything, and the short duration of our earthly life.
O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Psalm 39).
Fortunately, however, as most people have at least heard, if not (yet) believed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3).
This aspect of class reunions is self-evident. The next, less so.
The Legacy of Isolation
Why is it that so many of my classmates opted to skip the reunion – when I know for a fact that a number of them still live in the local area? I suppose the cost may have discouraged some. But I recognize the most significant reason for the majority who were absent.
They felt they were never part of “the In Crowd.” They watched other people standing in the limelight, getting all of the attention, and pretending to be happy and carefree.
The truth is that adolescence is a challenge for everyone. And it’s quite possible that the most “popular” kids are actually the most angst-ridden. The people we considered safely nestled in the popular cliques were frequently stressed by their insecurities about continuing to be perceived as winners.
In many cases, the years after high school are great equalizers. And, it’s not uncommon for the people who appeared to have the easiest social paths during their teens to be the least equipped to live successful adult lives.
So far, what I’ve said is not too surprising. But here I am going to take a bit of a leap. I make no claims to being a psychologist, but as a dedicated student of humanity, and a pastor who has heard many private, personal stories, I believe this observation to be true.
While we were teenagers attending school, nearly all of us felt like we were on the fringe of our school’s social core. And the handful who didn’t could well have been nascent narcissists. Trust me, the few who experienced actual delusions of grandeur at that time, were destined to take the greatest falls as they left that insulated environment.
So, this is what I think. Most of those who choose not to attend their class reunions, lacked a feeling of truly belonging. But, on the other side of the very same coin, most of those who choose to attend those very same gatherings also felt like they were insignificant people on the periphery of what was “happening.”
The Lord of this world (Lucifer) invests a great deal of energy trying to destroy the self-image of women and men who were created in the very image of God. My prayer is that if you have read this far, you consider what I’ve written. You are precious. You have always been precious, even when you considered yourself most ugly.
Attending your next class reunion may not be something you desire to do. But, don’t allow a false perception that you are unimportant be the reason you skip the event.
C.S. Lewis wrote a superb essay on the subject of “The Inner Ring,” and the temptation people have to compromise their integrity trying to fit in. He presented it as a lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944. In his words, “Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”
If you read the essay, which I heartily recommend, recognize that he was speaking to a student audience which consisted only of men. The truths he describes are applicable, of course, to both genders. Lewis’ observations certainly ring true with me.
I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.
12 thoughts on “The Weight of Class Reunions”
Excellent article Rob. My mind has also been busy with our mortality recently.
Fortunately being part of the inner ring is no longer a problem for me, thank God.
Just beware of the temptations of the Outer Ring.
Actually I’ve never heard of such a thing (to my recollection) but sounds like a great premise for a story… People on the fringe intentionally coalesce… with an agenda of their own…
You always pull together thoughts so wonderfully.
(I think everyone in high school is secretly miserable – not realizing everyone else is too.)
I’m glad you agree with me… and thanks for the compliment.
This is very helpful. My husband always drags me to every reunion, (we graduated in the same class), and I’m already dreading our 40th coming up next summer. Your insights of my fellow classmates, that they struggled along with me though it didn’t appear so, gives me a healthier perspective and reason to attend. Thanks.
I’m glad you found this post to be of practical value.
With your newfound perspective, I anticipate you will actually enjoy your fortieth reunion.
Since they can still be a bit stressful, could your blessings that you and your husband graduated together. My wife graduate (from the same high school) the year after me… so I get to anticipate another fiftieth next summer.
I was part of the outer ring but didn’t feel the need to follow along with the “in crowd”. The stuff that some of our classmates were doing I felt would lead to destruction and I didn’t think it was worth the risk. I think my parents raised me right. I look at the deceased list and I wonder what kind of living brought them to their demise. I would have hoped they would have lived longer, I would have liked to meet them again. I do wish there was some way of contacting those that didn’t attend. I would really like to see how their lives played out so far.
It was great talking with you at the reunion. We share quite a lot.
It was good seeing you too, and hearing how the Lord has blessed you.
I wish I shared your upbringing. My mom was honorable, but my dad’s example and influence were less so.
At our age, I suspect many of our classmates fell to ailments that take their share of human lives. Some choices — like tobacco use that killed my cousin and my brother-in-law in their mid-thirties — likely cut some down. And then there are accidents…
Some people do everything “right” and still suffer in a way that seems to be unfair. Best for us to live each day to the fullest, since we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.
To covet the ring is to assume that something good can come from secret compromise, if I may mix authors a bit. They did inspire each other’s work, after all.
But the ring is also the means by which one is exposed to the eye – and therefore influence – of the enemy.
“A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the Dark Power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – sooner or later the Dark Power will devour him.”
Tolkien, J. R. R.. The Lord of the Rings (p. 80). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
A “distantly” related citation, perhaps. But one can always trust each of these Inklings to offer keen insights into human (and hobbit) nature…
Let me start with a ‘Jeff Hamilton-ism’ : I AM the same person I was in high school … because in 50 years I haven’t learned anything. Jeff also introduced me to CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia in grade school, although he probably didn’t know because it was through casual conversations – not directed at me – on a school bus. The point is, I appreciate your references to Lewis’ theology. I borrowed from the Screwtape Letters (the drumming of fingers) in my own correspondence with a younger brother First Baptist convert quite some years ago.
Life is such a series of anecdotes. I’ve read, though I can’t quite believe, that memories objectively are about 50% reliable intertwining fact and fiction, relegating memories to being effectively guesswork. Our own constructs, as often as not. It makes it tenuous to fabricate an overarching philosophy of human nature based on personal experiences.
Considering that two individuals can have very different reactions to the same stimulus, ‘belonging’ and ‘otherness’ (rings inside and out) while undeniably motivators in the moment, would need be taken on a case-by-case basis, here specifically as regards class reunion attendance. (Thanks Erik). The further removed in space or time, the less importance I would give to a self-identity of one determined moment in the halls of NKHS 1972.
Just like two persons can respond differently, ONE person can have different personalities depending on the situation. Take a perfectly sane, rational comrade, put them behind the wheel of a car and let them loose on the streets of Seattle and they might become unrecognizable. Take another classmate, put them behind the wheel of a car… and they might end up in California. ….which might have happened. By the way, Rob – thanks for the lift down to Medford Oregon. (1978?).
Sheri’s heartfelt confessional, of which we heard every third or fourth word, was of course somewhere on the continuum you nicely exposited of the struggle to find where one fits into their environment. I confess that I cringe when anyone shares that they have ‘overcome’. There are way too many histories of fits and starts and reversals if the book isn’t closed yet. Little doubt everyone goes through their own personal Hell. One such regret which came back to haunt was David Lyle. I felt a personal affinity for him. He respected me in his goofball school bully persona. I never contacted him when I heard he was the one who found his father’s body after a home suicide. I also never visited him in prison after his armed robbery arrest, although I thought about it. I didn’t know he had died until I read our class list. That book is closed now.
MD Carlos Manuel Jesus Venegas Porras and family (wife and 4 girls) are doing extraordinarily well in Esparza Costa Rica, last word. I half hoped he would make it for the reunion. Gina Carey with her G-MOBILE vanity plates was last seen playing coed soccer in Seattle (when I played with her and friends) too many years ago. Also competitive at darts. I would never dream of challenging her. I’m sure you have the inside dope on some of the ‘number of them’ who ‘still live in the local area’.
Finally, I wasn’t very good at communicating how much I admired and found inspiration in the cast of characters who were classmates. Maybe a little detached ? I was fond of saying that life seemed like the Disney Jungle Cruise Ride to me. But you have to know that the Jungle Cruise Ride was 100 % real at the time.
Wonderful, thoughtful reflections, Eric. I agree that no one (at least no one with a conscience) could look back a half century and not have some regrets.
I have to hope that more than 50% of my memories are accurate though. Being married to Delores, who you knew well in high school and college, helps keep my memories about those years straight. (Hard, in a sense, to realize we began dating in 1973, and have now been married 46 years.)
We’ll have to get together and chat about the notion that everyone experiences their own Hell. I know you mean that in the figurative sense… but some of us have weathered various challenges and hardships without ever facing true horror (e.g. death of a spouse or, God forbid, a child).
Good to hear about Carlos and Gina. I wish we had compiled a sort of booklet of memories and information about post-high school experiences. We could have sought contributions from class members unable to attend.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.