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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Reunions: To Go or Not to Go

Get ready, get set, and go. Or throw the invite to your high school or college or professional organization's reunion into the garbage and forget all about meeting up with people you knew but haven't seen or heard from in, say, sixty years.

One of my dear friends finds herself in this exact position. She says she didn't have a good time in high school and has no interest in getting all dolled up with a new outfit, hair just coiffed, skin aglow (if that's even possible), and schlepping off to another state to be miserable again.

"But it might be interesting," I said. "You may be surprised."

"I doubt it. I'm not going to go."

"What if you bump into the man of your dreams?"

"No chance of that happening," she said. "I'm too damn old and have accepted the reality that I'll have to wait until my next life."

"Okay," I said. "There's a good chance that you'll connect with someone who was seventeen the last time you saw her and is now an interesting, accomplished woman. You arent's too old for that."

"I just don't have the energy to take a chance," she said. "It's too much work. I'd much rather spend time with my good friends here. No need to go searching."

My friend was adamant. I didn't persist.

And then there's me. I didn't think twice when the invitation to my twentieth high school reunion landed in my mailbox lo these many years ago and the invite to a college sorority reunion just a few years back. I'm an observer and found the opportunity to "check out" people from a former life enticing. And I figured I'd learn a bit about myself, how others "saw" me, and whether or not I'd changed, hopefully for the better.

I wondered who may have gone on to do important stuff like head up a startup company, discover through research a new cure for a disease, or the benefits of smoking cannabis. Maybe a woman had headed up a national magazine or had been named "Teacher of the Year." It was possible that someone had donated a ton of money to a worthy cause. (There was a slew of trust-fund "babies" in the high school group.)

A bit of background: I didn't go to my tenth high school reunion because I'd just given birth. And I was still pissed at the boy I'd had a big crush on who said upon seeing me for the first time without my glasses that he'd never noticed how big my nose was. Ouch! Not a kind thing to say to anyone but definitely not to a fourteen-year-old girl who was dealing with all sorts of insecurities about the way she looked.

But ten years later, I was "over it" and curious how people I'd known in high school had changed or not.

I was not disappointed. The guys, in particular, were bald or balding, and many of them sported ignored stomachs that spilled over their waistlines or what was left of them. The majority of men wore blue suits or muted sports jackets, the perfect dress for a formal event at the golf club but not so much for an informal reunion dinner.

I'm not totally comfortable initiating conversation with people I've never met or haven't talked to in decades. But I went beyond my comfort zone to smooze. I found my conversations with most of the men stilted and, in the main, uninteresting, bland just like their outfits. Yes, there were exceptions like Gary (not his real name) who was a yogi and had his own studio, and Sam who lived in Wyoming where he owned a horse ranch. Now that was cool!

The women on the other hand-- and here I take some liberties with generalizations-- had come into their own. Their energy was palpable; our conversations animated. Now to be fair, Jennifer (again, not her real name) looked and sounded like she'd been living in a cave and had not a clue about the world or her place in it. And Shirley--well, she looked exactly like she had twenty years earlier with her button-down sweater, Capezio flats to match, and her hair in a bouffant." I secretly hoped that she posted photos on Facebook on "Throwback Thursday."

When I told people who asked that I was a writer, they seemed duly impressed. Some were not a bit surprised. "We always knew that you'd go places." I felt good about the positive feedback of course but then wondered exactly what kind of places they had imagined. I didn't ask.

I had an interesting conversation with a woman who commented that I'd always had a mind of my own and that I was never hesitant about sharing my opinions. Funny because I saw myself then as a teenager too focused on others' opinions and afraid of speaking up, particularly when I was in the minority. As one of three Jews in a graduating class of over three hundred, I was already marginalized. (But that's another story.)

I get why you might not want to take a trip down memory lane. As with my friend, you didn't enjoy your time in high school or college or in any other organization. You had enough of your fellow classmates or your colleagues. You bid them a fond farewell and looked back.

But for my money, if nothing else, reunions can be filled with surprises. And let's face it: who doesn't like to fill in some life gaps and, if nothing else, better understand how our past intersects and informs our present.


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