So I’ve never found high school class reunion invitations to be all that inviting. I attended our first one and skipped the next few. By the time this latest invitation arrived, though, I was ready to take the trip back down memory lane, and I’m glad I did. But there are a few things about reunions that still give me pause. To be clear, they are my problems to fix (or make peace with). In no particular order, here are the big three:
- Making an Entrance: Few things are as uncomfortable as walking into a room full of people you haven’t seen in years. You’ve changed, they’ve changed. Are you going to remember anybody? Will anybody remember you? Did anybody you knew back in the day even show up? Will you be able to spot them in a crowd, 10 or 20 or (gulp!) 30 years later? Happily, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites have helped, filling the void of time and distance by allowing you to reunite as “friends” before reunion time. Seeing pictures and catching up on each other’s lives online breaks the ice and allows you to (re)establish and nurture relationships, so that by the time you walk into that big crowd of mostly unfamiliar faces (different weight, no glasses, no hair, new hair!) it’s not a room full of strangers you once knew. But it’s still nerve-wracking.
- Name Shame: I’m one of those unfortunate souls who has trouble with names. It has nothing to do with my regard for a person; I just have lousy name recall and I feel awful about it, especially when someone bounds up to me, singing my name as if they saw me yesterday. I’ve studied name memorization tools (repeat a person’s name when you’re first introduced; associate the name with something familiar, like John with a bathroom or Grace with the hymn, Amazing Grace, etc) and I use them whenever I meet people. But none of these things work in a reunion setting where you met the people years earlier. Name tags (a reunion staple) are designed to help. But at my reunion, despite printing names in 20-point font, the tags hung on cords so long that they were too low to read (saying hello as you stare into someone’s bellybutton seemed a bit obvious). Note to reunion organizers: Stick with name tags that stick close to the face.
- Some Things Never Change: Once you get past the prerequisite of everyone sharing sanitized, highly stylized versions of their marital, family, and career status; once you’ve gotten the names and faces and personal elevator pitches out of the way, the real party begins. As folks get to chatting (and drinking—reunions always feature lots of drinking), the gossip starts, as do the rekindled romances (if only for one night), the trash talk and the soul-baring. As peoples facades, fears, and politically correct filters come down, they start to really reconnect, and not just over old times, but over shared experiences that come with moving through parallel stages in life—raising children, losing parents, vying for promotions, making tough personal and professional transitions—and this is the glue that binds through the years.
This is really the point of reuniting with anyone, isn’t it? To remind each other—and ourselves—that life is full of turning points and we may only walk side-by-side for a minute, but at the root, we’re all still deeply connected and those connections are worth having and revisiting time and again.