One of the things I love about the new NBC series, “This is Us”, is the seamless way it moves back and forth over the lifetime of the characters. We see them at 8, 17, and 37, and we know the 37 year olds through the lens of their younger selves.
That’s what it felt like this weekend to go back to my 45th high school reunion. When I entered the opening cocktail party, the room at first appeared to me to be filled with white haired older people, looking like an ad for long term care insurance or Leisure World. Yet, as I looked at familiar names on their name tags, their visage changed. I saw through the gray hair, the slight stoops, the wrinkles to the teenagers that I partied with, the elementary school children I played with in the fields and at recess.
Forty-five years since high school seemed both impossibly long ago and impossible to be that long ago. These were the people who knew me before there was a me. They knew me as Debbi: class flirt, yearbook editor, smart and boy crazy. I knew them as unattainable football player, homecoming queen, class clown, early hippie, and troublemaker.
Here we were 45 years later, an entire middle adulthood behind us. We had married, been divorced, some of us three or four times. We had been widowed; we had never found the right mate. We had children, grandchildren, were infertile, and had had children die. Nearly fifty of 410 classmates had died before we reached the age of sixty-three. In conversations, I learned you had spouses who had killed themselves, been alcoholics, and domestic abusers. We have struggled with cancers, strokes, depression, addictions, and failed dreams. Some of us have succeeded professionally beyond anyone’s dreams for us, and some of us have struggled to eke out a living.
For one weekend, forty-five years later, we reconnected with each other, our pasts, and our high school hopes. It no longer mattered who we had been in high school. The popular boy danced with women he probably didn’t notice as girls; the popular girls smiled and talked to men they would have not dated. We were all kinder, more compassionate, more open than we were 45 years ago when cliques ruled.
We know now what we didn’t know then: That life would challenge all of us. That there would be suffering, heartbreak, grief and loss unimaginable to our 16-year-old selves. That love wasn’t passionate making out in the back seat of a car, but the day to day recommitment of long term marriages and raising children. That real friendships would come and go, but that these high school and even elementary school connections would still matter. That success in a career was far less important than happiness. That stature in high school didn’t tell us anything about success in life, but that an open heart did.
That at age sixty-three, we have lived more life than we have ahead of us. We are the lucky ones who have made it this far; by the 50th and 60th reunions, there will be fewer of us still here. So, for one weekend, we danced, told stories, remembered, and reconnected – to each other and to ourselves. This is US, class of 1972, and I am grateful to be among you.