Down on the Farm: Reunions
Summer is for reunions of all sorts. My 30-year high school class reunion is in July. Because I am one of the locals planning the event, I will likely show up when the day arrives.
Yet, it is no secret that most people, particularly locals, have mixed feelings about reunions. "I already see the classmates I care to see," is a common phrase you hear. "Why subject myself to the rest?" Good question!
I held a reunion practice round last week as I met two college freshman classmates for dinner. One I hadn't seen or talked to for 28 years.
Veterans of a small, conservative private college with a great choir, we brought each other up to date on the people we had once known in common.
Several have died. The rest of us seem to have merely survived. A few have thrived, but not at all in the manner we expected to at the time.
For instance, the concert choir's star tenor, who also was my freshman roommate, had a voice described in swooning tones as "butterscotch" by his voice professor, herself a professional soprano.
When Brian sang in chapel, students showed up because they wanted to hear his golden voice, not because the chapel police took attendance. Jealous coeds asked those of us who lived on his wing if we ever heard him sing in the shower.
Although we expected a professional singing career, now I find out that Brian and his partner went on to develop a popular line of farm-related clothing worn by several famous country singers. Who would have thought!
We had a great time at the dinner. Lots of laughs. However, as we got up to leave, we agreed that a few sessions of therapy might be in order to shed the sludge of the freshly-dredged memories.
I suspect the same thing will happen at the thirty-year high school reunion. Lots of laughs, lots of fun, lots of surprises, lots of memories. Then afterwards, a need for therapy--as well as an internal discussion with one's self over whether to ever attend again.
Why do reunions bring about such an intense mix of anticipation and dread?
Won't it be satisfying to see that, compared to my classmates, I haven't aged at all?
The truth is I have looked myself in the mirror every morning and have slowly gotten used to the gray hairs in my beard, the fewer hairs on my head (except for inside the ears) and the sixty pounds I have gained since graduation.
My endless youth is a delusion. And the class reunion might bring that home.
Then, there is the explaining. How does one explain that we are not yet Chairman of the Board? That the dream relationship didn't work out? That the first two careers didn't pan out and the jury is still out on the third?
Getting together with people from one's past forces one to sum up your life in a nutshell. The problem is, I don't trust people who can sum up their life in a nutshell. When I try to sum up my own life in a nutshell, I feel like I am selling a used car with a bad transmission.
Most of us instinctively avoid situations where we have to lie just to get through. The lies aren't big and are usually lies of omission rather than commission.
A dominant but small minority of people are expert at lying about their own lives. They practice their lies every year at Christmas when they send out a glowing letter that leaves out the part where son Jeremy is on probation for peddling dope.
But the rest of us feel stress when telling even the smallest lies, the white lies you tell just to get through a conversation without making the other person uncomfortable.
Honesty at a reunion can be painful.
Inevitably, you will disappoint the expectations you created for yourself when you were young, dogmatic and confidently ignorant.
Perhaps reunions have gotten tougher over the years because the standards of honesty have actually gone up.
In today's therapeutic culture, we're expected to air our dirty laundry. You spent two years in treatment? Why didn't you tell me? I've been through three times!
Honesty may be the best policy, but that doesn't mean it isn't hard work. Meanwhile, the art of lying just to get through is in disrepute.
So, the only thing to do is get together and let it all hang out. And call our therapist Monday morning.