Have you ever seen your advanced age spelled out somewhere and gotten spooked, sort of like shuffling across carpet in your comfy slippers only to get a nasty shock when you least expected it? It doesn’t even have to happen on your birthday, for the love of Pete. You respond to a survey or open some official-looking mail and there it is, plain as day and just as unflattering.
This weekend Mike and I are returning to the town where I attended high school for a milestone reunion. (See there? My fingers just skittered right over filling in the impressive number. “Milestone,” she says. There’s a euphemism for the AARP crowd if there ever was one.)
Why be reluctant to own our years? Growing older is a privilege, everybody knows that. Beats the alternative they say. Wouldn’t want to be 18 again for certain. Or 38. (But 48 sure is lookin’ good right about now.)
When I did theatre in my teens and twenties I lined my face and colored my hair to portray characters older than I was. When we moved back to the Midwest nearly 15 years ago, I ran into people I had not seen in decades. First thing I thought was: they’re wearing age makeup. A glance in the mirror confirmed it: and so am I, but now it won’t scrub off.
Here’s the thing. Entering a room with former classmates you haven’t seen since you were 18 can be its own brand of weird. You had nothing in common with most of them back then except the banality of the bus, homeroom shenanigans or the adolescent tortures of PE. What’s different now? Why stand around sipping wine and glancing surreptitiously at nametags when you could be home with a good book or a better buddy who knows you soul-deep as you are now?
Because the blessed truth is that reunions are just that: re-uniting with people you shared life with back in the day. Circling back around to where you started together not to size each other up or put each other down but simply to say, “You’re here too? I am really glad to see you.”
Reunions mean no longer caring whether you looked better then or now. They’re not about swapping achievements like trading cards or winning the class trivia contest by farthest- traveled or most-wed. It doesn’t matter a cat’s whisker whether you’ve published a book since the last gathering or if your youngest kid is still in jail.
What matters is showing up. Caring enough to come. Entering the room not with “Here I am” but “There you are!”
Reunions are about reconveying your present self into your distant past. They’re about returning to a place and a people for whom you may have no affinity except that you once inhabited a particular time and space together. Reunions are about renewing acquaintance, auld and new. Reunions are about the other, not about you.
So tomorrow night when Mike and I step into that hall and survey those present, you know what we will see? Beneath the fine cosmetics of age will be my former classmates. People with authentically lined faces and genuinely graying hair walking towards one another with hands extended in friendship over the canyon of 45 years.
A roomful of people who were – and will always be – the Class of ’71. And that’s a beautiful thing.