Reunited

24 05 2010

Like a great many other people, I watched the series finale of Lost last night. And, like a fair number of people (as the feedback about the viewing experience has filtered back to me), I was a bleary mess at the end of it all. I cried for about an hour after the show ended. My emotional state had nothing to do with the series coming to an end or anything about the finale in particular, except perhaps the finality of it all.

But as I sobbed – and it was comedic after a short while, as I tried to do other things while being a wreck – I pieced together what my emotional state was really a response to. And I traced the threads back to my 20-year high school reunion in 2007.

I won’t talk about the Lost finale partly out of deference to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet but plans to, but mostly because this has zilch to do with Lost.

Part of my thought process concerned the idea that when we die, we “tear” away from our temporary mortal guise to prepare for the return to our true, eternal selves. Essentially, as this idea was explained to me, this series of shocks to the system tells our [soul] that the body is no longer a refuge and the next step must be taken.

In less morbid terms, I think this happens throughout our mortal lives. When a situation is no longer instructive, in whatever way that might be, we are “torn” away from it and ostensibly free to advance to the next one. Relationships end, jobs lose their earlier luster, home just isn’t “home” anymore, and so on. We might cling to these experiences and places perhaps out of a sense of inertia, or the fear of the unknown, but sooner or later if it is time to move on, we do, even if the departure is not our decision, such as when a marriage ends in divorce.

In 1985, I was torn away from everything I knew when my family relocated to another town, resulting in a sort of “death”. Nobody would/could drive out to visit, and I wouldn’t/couldn’t come back to visit either. The distance wasn’t very dramatic in geographic terms but certainly in the all-important time of high school and teen angst, the death metaphor was certainly apt. I was dead to the people I grew up with, and while I remembered and missed them, they were dead to me too. I had a new life to sculpt in a new town, and new school.

No matter how much distance I put between myself and my childhood home, I still found myself drawn back to visit the familiar streets and occasionally to see friends from that formative time. But in short order, it became clear to me that it was not, and would never be again, “home”. My brother and I looked into the possibility of renting an apartment in the town of our respective youth and new ownership has completely transformed the place. Even the swimming pool had been paved over for parking spaces. We didn’t pursue the idea of moving there. The door had closed behind us.

I graduated from the “other” high school but never felt any connection to the place. I told the reunion committee to somehow convey that I am never going to be interested in attending. Don’t say “deceased”, I said, just “not interested.”

For a cheap Lost reference, there was a line in a much earlier show to the effect of, “he walks among us, but he is not one of us.” That was my High School Two experience in a nutshell. (Name redacted as I don’t want a bunch of unrelated web search traffic.)

The trouble was, I wasn’t one of the old gang anymore either. I didn’t graduate from the school I assumed I would, living in the shadow of the football stadium and treated to the annual reading of the graduation roll over the PA system. Some years I heard the names of the older kids in the neighborhood over the speakers and imagined what it would be like to have my name read, or my childhood classmates that survived onward to the same high school. The departure to college was perhaps another sort of “death” but I wasn’t around to experience it. I was already “dead”.

I found myself in later years becoming depressed that the call would never come asking me to come to the High School One reunion. I wasn’t a graduate. I wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar screen to reach out and ask me anyway. And I couldn’t exactly ask to be invited, because who the heck was I? Some dead guy.

I had a dream one morning that I crashed the “reunion”. I made a big show of crashing the party, stole the swag, got into a fight, and left after making a big speech about how I was just as much a part of the greater experience as anyone else, I just graduated from somewhere else. I awoke thinking that it wasn’t that traumatic and I’d made peace with the idea that I could never really come back. I did still sneak in visits to the old town when able, but living in Texas didn’t make that as simple as when I still lived in the Chicago suburbs.

With God as my witness, later that day I got an email from a childhood classmate asking if I planned to attend the 20 year reunion for High School One. I replied with a cordial reminder that I wasn’t a member of the graduating class. Her reply: You grew up with us, right? You’re part of this.

I was stunned.

Then I went to work.

Even though I wasn’t on the reunion committee I made it my mission to seek out as many elementary school classmates as possible. (Screech of brakes) Wait, elementary school? Wasn’t this for high school?

Yes, and no. Yes, the high school was the focal point. But when I looked inward I found what I already knew: My elementary school classmates are an integral part of me. For better or for worse, regardless of how poorly we treated each other – and oh, don’t get me started about how awful we could be, and how – we’re still woven into each other’s fabric.

This became even clearer to me as I had conversations with my old classmates. I was shocked to learn that something was happening to us as our fortieth birthdays crept closer: They were thinking about the elementary school days too! Some people who were utterly turned off to the idea of attending the high school reunion did an about-face when it was reframed as a chance to see elementary school classmates once more. Not everyone could or would make it to the reunion, but our phone calls and emails had a profound effect on me and to Jackie Bull Gross, who reached out to me and called me back from the dead, I am eternally grateful.

Post reunion, many of us are on Facebook. I don’t have daily interaction with everyone from Back When but I thought about the Facebook attachments we have and that – speaking for myself but perhaps others share this sentiment – it’s comforting to know that the kids from elementary school grew up and are living their adult lives, and we have the opportunity, if we wish, to reconnect once more without having to wait for another reunion invite.

Through the tears last night, and even now as I conclude this article, I concluded that my interest (obsession?) in the 20 year reunion was actually a faithless act. I didn’t know if there was an afterlife ballroom that we’d all huddle in and reminisce about the good old days before taking our leave. What I knew then subconsciously, and admitted consciously to myself last night, is that here on Earth, I wanted one more chance to see them all, one more time, before I died.

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