Recently I went to my 30th High School Reunion of which, in the last few months, I had helped on the planning committee. I mentioned to someone that I hadn't connected with a lot of people in high school (too shy, self-conscious and insecure-- like most of us were) and really wished I had reached out to more people.
In high school, in social class terms, I didn't feel on the same level. Most (or at least many) of them had parents who worked regular jobs and had 'normal' homes and lives. Throughout most of my early school years, we moved every few months so I was perpetually the new kid, the outcast and even worse, "The Hippie Kid" (which meant never having new clothes and feeling a little like a zoo attraction). Back then, I felt we had so little in common (and again with the lack of self-confidence), I would never have struck up a conversation just to be friendly.
So to be able to connect with people based simply on our school history and shared memories (most of my high school years were finally all in one school) felt like a blessing to me. These days there are any number of hooks on which to hang a conversation: 30 years of life experience, school, travel, kids and present locations. And what a world of difference a little life-experience confidence can make.
This past month, our class had three wonderful days to catch up on all topics starting with a casual Friday night gathering at a local steakhouse. Eighty to a hundred of our peeps literally took over the bar and nearby diners sprouted eyes wide as cup saucers as they relinquished all attempts to talk to each other over dinner, decibel levels making that a sheer impossibility. The big bash Saturday night at the top of the Hilton offered gorgeous views and dresses, great music and food and speeches by our old principal and a favorite teacher (mine anyway), her basic message touching on the importance of connecting and finding the joy in your life. Sunday's barbecue, back to casual fare, was light, fun and easy and enabled more catching up with some of those possibly missed earlier in the weekend.
Someone (planning a 35th reunion for another school) told me that the 30th is much less about the inevitable "And what are you doing?" question (the inflection on any one of those words changing the tone and its perceived meaning) and much more about "How very lovely to see you!", "What's new with you?" and "Let's stay in touch!" And after a full weekend of my 30th, I can resoundingly say I found it to be true.
At our 10th reunion, one of the 'popular athletic types' in high school approached me, asked what I did and when I told him I was bartending after having just graduated as an English major and wanted to write, he promptly turned and walked away without a word. I literally could have caught flies, my mouth hanging to the banquet-room carpet as I watched the God-like back I'd sat behind in Mr. B's class walk away from me, his handsome features now approaching a cute nearby blonde sporting a tight miniskirt and blazer who clearly looked like she commanded more money, more respect and more prestige out in the world.
The 30th (without certain jocks) was a lovely affair with joyous, smiling faces, truly happy just to find each other and spend time together as well as throngs of screaming, jostling hugging old friends reunited, so excited they literally jumped up and down. Social class no longer mattered. What was truly important were the hugs, the memories, learning new things about old friends and new stories about old times.
Helping with the reunion, I think, was a way for me to connect now as I hadn't back then. Did I know that when I offered to help? I think I knew I wanted connection but didn't really put it all together until later. Coming down off the high of so much fun, so much reuniting and so many truly open arms and loving hearts, I felt accepted in a way I never allowed myself to be in high school. And I feel grateful and proud that these people are a part of my past, my history, making up a piece of the mosaic soul montage that I am now.
Connecting and joy!
Who knew the 30th could do all that!?!
(Photographs copyright: Kirsten Steen)