The Aging of the High School Reunion

Posted on March 10, 2012

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Sometimes aging can make us feel like we are naked, smeared with bacon grease and deposited near a den of rabid grizzlies who have just completed a research project involving the effects of a prolonged vegan diet.

While it might seem that there is no way out, know this: There is no way out.  OK, now that we have dispensed with the fantasy of escape, we can move on to something that, while not technically in the category of “reality,” is a step closer to it than the fantasy of escaping aging (or rabid bears): the high school reunion.

The high school reunion is a phenomenon that occurs with alarming regularity after one has graduated from high school.  It is most often organized by people who have gained no weight or lost any hair since graduation, or who are vampires and so don’t cast reflections in mirrors.

Herein lies the beauty of the class reunion: Unlike our hair, reunions do get better with age.  Here are the reasons why:

We start by being defined by our ability to achieve the items on the I’m-An-Adult-Now Checklist:  Are we married? Check.  Have we produced offspring?  Check. (or Check. Check. Check.) Have we become successful in our jobs?  Check.  OK, we pass. We also remain defined by the successes we were in high school.  The athletes are supposed to still look like athletes.  The cheerleaders like cheerleaders.

After awhile, as the decades pass, as children grow older and leave, and as some marriages also grow older and leave, the focus becomes more on us. We may, for the first time since graduation, actually connect as people, rather than owners of marriage/children/career appendages.  This is an amazing thing.  People who used to intimidate us have aged exactly the way we have.  The cheerleader now looks like a 50 or 60-year-old woman, and we can throw our arms around her and revel in that squishy-soft feeling od her upper arms.

And, ah, the other benefits of the high school (or college) reunion. Like love. There are reasons why so many people find love at reunions. There is a built-in level of comfort and of trust.  These are the people who knew us before we made such complete messes of our lives.  These are the people who take us back to the time when life was something to look forward to, rather than a series of choices to regret. And the ability to look at this person at age 50 or 60 and to see them as they were, knowing they are looking at us and seeing us how we used to be.

Like reinvention.  For those of us who did manage to lose the weight/the buck teeth/the Coke bottle glasses/the dorky clothes, the reunion is a way to flaunt our reinvented selves to the world.   We revel in statements such as “How did you ever get your eyes to uncross?” or “I was told you were living in a cabin in the mountains and running a shelter for pit bulls.”  I guess I was wrong.”

Like friendship.  Without the trappings of life, we get back to who we were with the people who we wanted to be with.  We laugh like we used to.  We are silly and irreverent and subversive.  We tell secrets and we reveal. We eat bad food. Only now there is no teacher casting a baleful eye on our behavior, no parent to tell us we should be doing our homework and not fooling around.  We are the adults now. It’s just us, being exactly who we want to be.

Here’s to the high school reunion.

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