Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Old School

Last weekend, I did something I didn't think I'd do: attend my 20 year high school class reunion. Now, I happen to have loved high school and had a lot of good friends there, which I know is not a universal experience. I knew there would be some people there with whom I'd spent every day of my life for years, and having lost touch I wanted to see them again. But it's also been a long time, and I've changed quite a bit. I used to be a big partier; now I don't even drink alcohol. I used to be an agnostic, left-wing radical; now I'm a Christian conservative who works in ministry and believes that Jesus is the most important thing in the universe. All of that is hard to explain to drunk people while shouting over loud music.

But finally, about ten days before the event, I realized that I couldn't not go. Too much of my life was spent with some of these folks to merely blow them off. This created a large problem, as I would now only have little over a week to lose 50 pounds, find a better-paying, more prestigious job, earn a graduate degree, and garner multiple community awards.

I let my grateful wife off the hook for this one. There are few things more excruciating in life than attending the other spouse's reunion. The whole event is really designed to completely exclude you from the git-go (unless, as was the case for a few, you met in high school). It's people coming together for the express purpose of sharing memories that do not include you in any way, shape, or form. You can always tell which ones are the spouses, because they're usually gathered together with glum looks around the open bar. Meanwhile, the other spouse isn't having much fun reminiscing with classmates either, because he knows he's in big trouble with the annoyed and excluded wife and has to keep checking back to try to unsuccessfully placate her in some way. And that's not even to mention the relentless and inevitable hunt for the former high school boyfriend or girlfriend. "Is that her?" they hiss as each classmate is greeted, ready to brain somebody with a purse. Having once made a living DJ'ing events like this, and attended a few as a guest, I've seen this scene played out hundreds of times. Not us, not this year, much to my wife's relief.

I was surprised by how well everyone had aged. I suppose those who've been ravaged by Father Time simply choose not to attend (present company excepted). But the ones who were there gave me no easy reasons to have illusions of superiority whatsoever, which was obviously disappointing. Sometimes the experience was surreal. Some of my classmates and I go back as far as grade school together. It's amazing to see the face of someone you knew in first grade suddenly plastered onto a 38-year-old body.

The vast majority of them seem to be doing very well, and undoubtedly all are making more money than I am. Ten years ago that would've been tough; now I can handle it by the grace of God. Still, when a sweet-souled female classmate who is now a cancer specialist M.D. and on the faculty at the Stanford School of Medicine said to me, "You were always so smart," I was tempted to respond, "Oh yeah? You wanna trade houses?"

I'm glad I went back. I'm a much different person then they knew--I've been profoundly changed--but they're unlikely to have noticed that over the thumping music and the raucous celebrating. But being there reminded me how much I care about these people from the Lindbergh High School class of '87 with whom I have a history, and hopefully someday I'll have a quieter opportunity to find out about their adult lives and tell them a little bit about my own journey.

And it also gave me another chance to fly the friendly skies and discover why the airlines are going out of business. This time around, I spent a total of an hour and fifteen minutes waiting for luggage to pop out onto the carousel. I would have been fed up with the wait, but now they make it more interesting by enlisting you into the ranks of their actual baggage handlers. See, now that airports have gone to the innovative slithering-snake shape for their baggage carousels rather than the old, standard oval, you now spend much of your wait dodging luggage that careens off the treadmill at impossibly tight turns, trying to shove somebody's golf clubs back onto the conveyor belt while also nursing your shattered tibia. Way to go, American Airlines! That's worth the price of that 13-inch wide seat right there.

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