If, like the narrator of “Tangled Up in Blue,” you feel that your oldest friends are “an illusion to me now,” I have a simple Rx for you: Go to your class reunion. You will quickly discover that all the people you used to know are just as real as they ever were, and it’s only your illusions about them that are insubstantial.
I’m just back from my high school reunion, where I encountered a mathematician, just like in the Dylan song, and maybe some carpenters’ wives too. We also had teachers, bankers, entrepreneurs and electricians, farmers, artists, librarians, military men and a guy in the movie industry.
Many had retired from their careers but still worked. A retail manager is now a caregiver in a group home. An educator is hostessing for the summer at a seaside restaurant. An athlete who used to be a national gymnastics coach is now a life coach. And those were just the folks at my table.
The care and feeding of kids and grandkids is a major preoccupation for those who have them. Not all of us do, and I stand in awe of what some of my old friends have gone through with their offspring. The degree of love and commitment that it takes to raise a family is humbling.
Some say life is easier when they’re away from the kids, at their second homes in Florida, which many of my classmates seemed to have. But then, someone who lives in Florida has a second home in Utah, while another friend is building her dream house in (no kidding) Nebraska.
It would have been interesting, in fact, to poll the attendees about these and other details of their lives. I’m only sorry I didn’t think of the idea in time to suggest it to the reunion committee. Who, for example, stayed in our home state and who moved away? How many are still married to their original spouses? Which women were kept from pursuing their dreams by parents who refused to send their daughters to college? A couple of classmates mentioned that experience, a reminder of why it was our generation who founded the modern women’s movement.
The list of those conspicuously absent has grown since the only other reunion I attended, 20 years ago. People pored over the roster of the deceased in much the same way that many of us routinely read the obits in our local papers, glad our name is not among them (yet).
Others were missing by choice. “I didn’t like all those people back then,” one absentee candidly told a committee member. “Why would I want to get together with them now?”
Good point, I suppose. But if shared history isn’t enough of a reason, how about simple curiosity?
We got handed our diplomas together and then separated to start our lives. Now, we’ve had them. The graduation and the reunion are like bookends. It’s what’s in the middle that’s so interesting.