All of that stuff isn’t actually very much related to why I had such a good time. Events such as these,and this one being no exception, tend to hover at a minimum ever so slightly above the surface, with the depth of interactions tending toward the “Hey, how’s it goin’?” and the “So what cha been up to?” level. And that is squarely where most of my evening was spent. Normally I would hate such a thing, for I much prefer depth to breadth when it comes to connection with others, but for me there was something sacrosanct about it all. I have a deep appreciation for life as it unfolds, and for the preciousness of the places where our lives intersect. 30 years ago, we all threw our caps in the air in the football stadium, and our lives diverged. 30 years later, now that we’ve all acted out the sweeping arcs of our perfectly unique lives, we came back together to swap notes, catch up, fan an old flame or two, and recalibrate for ourselves the measuring sticks of our own lives.
The word that seemed to come up for me in my mind throughout the evening was “precious.” It felt precious to be able to peek into so many individual 30 year time capsules and get a glimpse into how lives unfold. Before I even got into the main gathering room at the Hyatt where we were convening, someone bought me a beer. I suppose my saying “Hey, aren’t you gonna buy me a beer?” may have had something to do with it. While we weren’t necessarily great friends back in high school or college,it was nice seeing this person again and it felt like we genuinely met each other, if only briefly. Shortly thereafter, I found myself amidst the jock group which seemed to have naturally gravitated towards each other. This wasn’t really my clique in high school,opting instead for the pretty-smart-card-playing-mostly-lazy clique. When I mentioned that my old homeroom teacher was Mr. Eck, the varsity head football coach at the time, one of the guys very quickly said “dead” and nothing more. He said it before I had even finished my sentence and with such punctuation that I did an auditory doubletake and said “did you say he’s…?” and just as quickly again he finished my sentence with, “dead.” It was so matter of fact that I was a bit startled. The arcs of our lives indeed take us in many directions. I then swapped stories and memories with another old acquaintance and he shared fairly honestly what his life is like. I hadn’t had much connection with him in high school either, save for our Freshman sports team, but we connected as if it mattered. And it does. It wasn’t just surface, and I so appreciated that. I bought him a drink, a coke, which made me wonder whether he might be in recovery. We can’t learn everything in just a few minutes with someone, but we can genuinely meet as best we can in that time, and that is what, for the most part, we tried to do.
The beauty of it all for me is that even when we connect only on the surface, it’s still beautiful. We’re human, and that’s what we do, we often connect on the surface. I had a distinct appreciation of our humanness that evening. There are many things not to be missed in this lifetime. I’d actually suggest that just about every unique opportunity for experience should be taken where possible. We only have one 30thhigh school reunion, and in my book that reason alone is sufficient for attending. We so rarely regret the things we do in life, it’s the things we don’t do that foster regret. So, if we are human and appreciate the qualitative aspects of being human, we go to these things, we go to weddings and funerals, we watch the birth of our children, we sit with someone on their deathbed, we carve out time for special engagements with people who are dear to us, we throw a big 50th birthday party (be forewarned BTW), and we sit on the porch swing with that relative we may not like so very much, appreciating the connection we do have and expressing the love that is there.
I could say so much more, describe 50 more interactions from the reunion, but the specifics aren’t critical, the point is that we were there, and got to bear witness to precious slices of life. While some people were busy putting on a show and trying to make an impression, some were visibly uncomfortable, and others simply drunk, but most seemed genuinely happy to be there and all in all it seemed like people had a fun time.
I have often written about “presence”on this site, but I’d like to take another opportunity to discuss it and lay out the effect it can have on one’s ordinary experience, and more specifically my recent experience in attending the reunion. To me, presence is a state of awareness which affords one a sense of immediacy in one’s experience. Being present (experiencing presence means maintaining a more or less continual awareness of one’s experience. Instead of simply having an experience, one is aware that one is having an experience. It’s like backing one large step away from the scene and seeing not only the scene, but yourself in it as well. There is a more acute sense of one’s emotional experience as well. From within this state of presence, a scene, an activity, an experience or an interaction can take on a feeling of sacredness,of privilege, of preciousness.
The arc of my life has taken a very wide swing from where my feet were planted when I was 18 years old. I feel a bit like a crab that has molted its shell many times over, each time becoming more sufficient, more me. It’s interesting to come back to a group of people you have known for a long time and having them recognize you, but feeling like an entirely different person.
After the reunion wound down, and after heading out to a bar to further socialize, I booked a room at the hotel and stayed up until 5:30am, catching up with old friends, laughing, drinking yet more wine, and learning more acutely about how our own arcs exist as they are because of other arcs that never quite came to be. Bittersweet, being a human can be, but even bittersweet is one of those qualitatively human experiences that make is such a treat to be alive.