Tuesday, July 28, 2009

20, 25, 30, 35 and Counting

Over the weekend, we attended our 35th reunion of our high school graduating class of 1974. Hard to believe, but true. I felt some trepidation about this, as like most people, I see a much different image in the mirror today than I did 35 years ago, and I wasn't particularly eager to read shock in other people's eyes when they realized who I was.

Naturally, my anticipation was far worse than the reality. All of us have changed, of course, but I was certainly no more shockingly transformed than other members of my class, and am probably a bit better preserved than the norm.

What was most interesting was the general tenor of the reunion. Like most of these gatherings, there was a general mood perceptible in the group at this one. At the 20th class reunion, I remember there being a good deal of energy and optimism, as we were all right in the heart of our career years, still believing that the best years were just about to arrive. It wasn't a particularly realistic mood, but it was invigorating.

By the 30th reunion we in our late 40s, and I remember that there was a prevailing mood of quiet disappointment and even cynicism. I remember talking with many people who quietly expressed that their jobs/marriages/parenting lives hadn't turned out quite the way they wanted. The dreams that had still been percolating 10 years earlier had now been dashed. Divorces had come for some; job layoffs for others; others just hadn't achieved the happiness they expected as their birthright.

So I didn't know quite what to expect at the 35th reunion. I feared that the mood might be even more negative than five years earlier. So it came as a welcome surprise to find that some level of optimism had returned to the group. There were a few people who still seemed mired in maintaining old illusions——the blonde class bombshell embarrassed herself by pouring herself into a black cocktail dress that is now much too tight; another class member still is seeking the big overnight success that is always just out of reach; another woman continues to complain to others about every negative thing in her life, just the way she did 35 years ago.

But for the most part, what I heard on Saturday night was a group of former classmates who have now put things in perspective. For the most part, we no longer are seeking more out of life, but have learned to take satisfaction in what we have. There are those among us who have enjoyed notable career success, but few people talk about it any more, and absolutely nobody brags about it. Everyone now understands how illusory those acheivements are. Instead, we talk about empty nest living, about our now-grown kids. A surprising number are speaking fondly of grandchildren. We laugh about the shared experience of being middle aged and developing arthritis, and shake our heads at the foibles of our children and the younger generation in general.

It was just fine. And I no longer worry about the year 2024, when the 50th reunion will come and we will hobble in at age 68. I'm looking forward to it, in fact.

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