Last weekend was my twenty-year high school reunion. It should be noted that I didn’t actually attend the reunion itself since I had to head back to San Antonio for a friend’s wedding. But as I needed to make a trip to Dallas anyway I decided to take advantage of the fact that some of my far-flung classmates were going to be in town and so was able to meet up with a few people for a personal, mini-reunion.
The class of 1995 was unique in a way in that it was one of the last to graduate before email was a thing. As a result one of the highlights of my 10-year reunion was acquiring the email addresses of a handful of friends with whom I had lost touch. Of course, in 2005 even as I was gathering those addresses Zuckerberg was quite literally creating Facebook that would soon make keeping up with large groups of people even easier.
Still, nothing can replace the visceral experience of reconnecting with someone in person. Ten years ago it was great to be able to spend time with people that I quite literally had not seen nor heard from in a decade. That said I remember leaving that first reunion with a slight but palpable sense of sadness. It took me a while to figure it out exactly what was the cause.
My time in high school was by no means the high water mark of my life. It was a thing that just happened. The experience I had there was shared by a large and diverse group of people who at the time very much defined my world.
For a time in the mid-90s that world was all consuming. And then suddenly that world ceased to exist.
When we graduated we by definition all moved on. We went to college (or didn’t). We got married (or didn’t). We had kids (or didn’t). In the rush of becoming adults we lost track of how much things change.
I think the sadness I felt ten years ago came from the realization of how incredibly temporary high school was and - by extension - how temporary every stage of life is.
Jobs come and go. Apartments and houses are moved in to and then out of. People we love pass away. New ones are born. When we were young everything seemed so much more permanent but in reality it is all incredibly transient. Things that once seemed so terribly important become irrelevant with startling quickness. The reverse is true as well.
* * *
On the Friday night before the actual reunion (you know, the one I missed) I picked up a friend for dinner. On the way we passed by our old high school building.
It might be because I’m an architect, but I tend to organize my memories by the places where they occurred. I remember my kindergarten playground. I remember the archway where I first kissed a girl. I remember the view from the altar of the church where I was married (to a different girl).
My memories of high school are not so physically rooted. Not long after I graduated they expanded my high school to a point where it doesn’t look much like it did when I was a student there. Even though I drive by the building whenever I visit my family, the experience does not move me to reflection – not in the way I’ve been moved in these past few days as the reunion approached, as photos were posted online and as I had the opportunity to spend time with old friends.
After dinner on Friday, my friend and I decided to make an appearance at the homecoming football game. Admittedly this was an odd choice for me (I don’t know that I ever actually went to a football game when I was in high school) but it seemed like a fitting and proper thing to do. While I was there I realized I was having a quintessential high school experience – a full two decades after graduating.
It occurred to me then that our memories are active things. They are not tied to a particular place or time. They are instead a starting point for our future. They can be revisited, renewed and expanded. High school (or any experience) may only last for a finite period of time, but our active experience of it can last a lifetime.
So I suppose in the end it isn't a thing that just happened - it is a thing that is happening still.