Well, I said I was going to start blogging on midlife, and surely there is nothing more midlife than a 40th high school reunion. I attended my husband's reunion with him last night. I was not a member of the class of 1974, but close enough that the kids in his yearbook look interchangeable with the kids in mine. Same hair and clothing styles, same cultural touch points. Since it wasn't my class, there was absolutely no stress on me – I had no memories to reconcile with present day reality, no concerns about what anyone would think of me,no past to live down or live up to.
Of course one of my observations is that by a 40th reunion, most of those petty concerns fall away anyway. As one of Bob's classmates put it, “At this point we're just glad we're alive!” I suspect for any class at a 40th reunion, the reality is there is a large enough contingent of deceased classmates to bring home that reality. But beyond that, there just seems to be a realization that shared history is a precious thing. It is exciting to meet someone who remembers the same things you do. I would see Bob's face light up as some old story was told that he hadn't thought of in decades.
Several hours into the party I was standing chatting with another wife of a class member, and nearby someone was updating a friend on his mother's recent health issues. I pointed out that I had been hearing variations on this conversation all night. Sadly, this was probably the greatest shared reality of people 40 years past high school graduation – that our parents' health is failing, and we are suddenly thrust into the role of caring for them or making sure care is provided.
Of course there was conversation about kids and grandkids, but I notice that the tenor of those conversations was a lot different than when we were younger, too. There was a time when parenting could quickly become a competitive sport – my kid is so good at this and that and has won these awards, blah, blah, blah. But that wasn't the way people were talking about their kids this time. They tended to be much more real, while no less loving. It was more like, “My kid is here or there, does this or that....wasn't sure I liked the choice, but I just want her to be happy.” Or, “He's still wandering but we think he's going to be OK.” I guess it just feels like by this point, we've finally figured out that our kids are separate from us, they are who they are, and their choices aren't a reflection on us.
We had a great time. One of his classmates said as we were leaving, “Tonight seems almost less about finding old friends than making new ones.” There was some truth to that. There were people at that party that we would enjoy going out with in another context, and it just might happen.