It's hard to come to grips with the past. It can be a welcome friend or a dangerous enemy. It can even be both at the same time, something of which occasions like class reunions abundantly remind us.
When you attended school in a community that easily could pass for the setting of a short story by John Cheever, the drama and subtext of youth can easily be played out all over again. Those you knew as children are now grown men and women, with families, jobs, marriages, mortgages and all the other attendant responsibilities of adulthood that once seemed so far off but are now the facts of everyday life.
Reunions are a time where romances are rekindled, scores are settled, and grudges forgiven. They are a place where people can quickly fall back into old, long forgotten patterns that for a brief moment are all too familiar once again. Reunions are a trip back in time where the anxieties of the present can be made to disappear, only to be replaced by the anxieties of the past which, no longer important, are much easier to handle.
People grow. People change. Yet there is an innate sense of self that is always there which reunions can bring out in ways that years of therapy cannot. The girl whom you loved silently from afar is happy to see you and quite interested in what has happened in your life. The boy who was your teenaged passion is now grown and bald and overweight and you cannot for the life of you remember why you were ever together. The teacher who had a major influence on your life barely remembers you at all. We come to such events not knowing what to expect and can be surprised at the outcome. They are an escape from daily life that produces shadows and illusions of what might have been had only.
For all that, the real world is still much in evidence. The dynamism of the American economy is very real. Some, as statistics compiled over years prove must be the case, are doing better than their parents. Others are doing about as well and some are worse off. The poor do get rich and the rich do become poor. Status, upbringing, education, luck, lineage all play a part in determining outcomes. America's social and economic structure is not as rigid as some people make it out to be. We are masters of our own destiny to a measurable degree and have the ability to make of life what we choose, at least to a significant degree.
Reunions are also a reminder that material success is not an absolute pathway to happiness. That is a lie repeated daily by an entertainment culture that shows a marked preference for reigning in Hell over serving in Heaven. Happiness comes from success but from success of different types. A quiet life of intellectual pursuits which may not provide much in the way of economic reward can, for the right person, be the source of abundant joy. Children can be a source of a joy so tremendous that they are inarguable worth all the sacrifices required to get them off the launching pad of life.
Nothing is for certain. Good girls go bad. Bad boys do good. The football star goes to seed and the heavy girl becomes a runway model. The unhappy find peace and the restless settle. Hope is not a "thing with feathers" but seeing how your classmates have turned out, for good and for bad. You cannot escape the past and you cannot relive it. You can, however, enjoy it. So here's to the graduating class of Byram Hills High School 1983, in whom virtually every human experience and emotion can be seen. They are a unique group of people who, even if I did not realize it at the time, I am proud to have known. Indeed I am proud to know them now for, without them, I would not be the person I am today. And if this blog post makes Mary Blaney mad like some of my other columns have, I apologize.
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