Letter to My 40th Class Reunion

It was 40 years ago last June, a warm Tuesday evening on the 12th, that we lined up in our green caps and gowns outside the front entrance to the high school. Laughing at each other’s jokes, we waited for the signal to march inside for commencement.  The grass was freshly mowed, a light breeze stirred the air, a few puffy clouds dotted the horizon.  And inside, a gymnasium full of parents, friends and family politely fanned themselves, awaiting our entrance.

We’d done it.  It was 1973, and we were the cocks of the walk: the graduating seniors.  We imagined ourselves experienced.

Last night, I looked out on a 40th reunion, and I saw what experience really looks like.  We were no longer virgin canvas; our faces had been transformed by the process of living into complex statements of character.  Every face there was utterly beautiful.  We had become walking stories.  I wanted to hear them all! Yet at the same time,  every face carried a precious piece of the “once upon a time” that was Nelson County in the early seventies.

I have recently found myself wishing that I could go back and eliminate the wasted opportunities, that I could somehow know every single classmate as a close friend. But you remember high school: the cliques, the shyness, the peer pressure, and of course, the still fresh divisions of black and white in the ’70s.

Now, all those actors’ masks that once seemed so necessary and so compelling – we simply toss them aside.

And so, last night. . . forty years out. . . we show up. We present ourselves to each other with that stumbling fearlessness that only comes with age. We arrive with our faded dreams, our crowned glories, our pictures of grandchildren, our memories of departed classmates, our successes and failures. . .  and this is what forty years written over eighteen-year-old faces looks like.  Rembrandt was never so sublime.

Last night we looked at each other, and we glimpsed something that we somehow always knew: we are all one human being – written over and over again by an author who delights in the variation assigned to us as individuals. It is for us only to recognize ourselves in each other.  And celebrate. 

We are the celebration of that creation, of an era that has found itself at last.  A more rural, less worldly moment in county history than today.   A time fraught with its own uncertainty: the winding down of the Vietnam war, the rise of counter-culture, the essential progress of civil rights, and above all an eternal dilemma: whether to accept our parents’ views on society, or to strike out along new paths and to forge new visions of the world.

If there had been an open mic last night, I am not sure I could have made it through this. But I want to say that I consider you ALL my closest friends whether you were there or not, or whether I am ever able to tell you in person.

Until next time.  Be well. 

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12 responses to “Letter to My 40th Class Reunion

  1. Betty Gardner Collins

    Well said Kirk. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Kirk, It could not have been written any better! Best Jimmy

  3. Kirk, your words and feelings mirror so many of my own. The reunion wasn’t about the past as so many who did not come may have thought but about the journey we have all travelled to bring us back to our roots. Yes, we relived some of the past but we forged a new path with friendships renewed and new friendships established. We took the past and made it the present. We conquered the divisions of the past and made them bonds for the future. This is what maturity and experience have taught us. We are no longer those naive 18 year olds but adults who have journeyed through the vast experiences of life and come to see that life is the best teacher and that we will always be students. I came expecting to see a few old friends and I left knowing that despite my limitations the love and compassion i had always known had grown and matured with the years. I came away refreshed and ready to continue my journey. I hope to see and hear from you all before another 40 years have past.

    • Teresa, you didn’t leave your name, but I feel certain this is you. I have to say that your words are priceless to me! They reveal a mindfulness and a compassion that must exceed the average experience. You elaborated on my ideas with thoughts I wish I had said. I have such respect for your path. -K

  4. Kirk, thank you! This is an awesome memoir. It was all true. It really made me stop and think that time is very precious to me. It makes me think that we need to enjoy every minute of our life here on earth and it really is moving on very fast. It was so good to see you and Jane. I miss seeing you all at the nursing home where our moms were. How that time was very precious to us that we got to spend those last days with our Moms. We learn to move on a appreciate everything around us. God bless you and your family. Come to see us sometime when you are in the area.

    Joyce

    • Joyce, you are so right! If forty years passes so quickly, how much longer will our remaining seasons last? There is simply no substitute for being awake and aware to the joys of each moment. Yours is one of the faces and spirits that are indelibly written in my heart.

  5. Thank you, Kirk, for these profound reflections. Truth well-expressed.
    Love to you and Jane,
    Jane

    • Thanks for your always kind words, Jane. Isn’t it strange: I haven’t been worth much since the weekend. The event we waited for all summer passed so quickly, and now we must establish a new beacon. Looking forward to seeing you again.

  6. Kirk,
    Thank you once again for so eloquently putting into words what I believe all of us were feeling Saturday night. I had no idea the rush of emotion and memories that would greet me upon seeing my classmates after all these years. It was truly an amazing evening and this letter from you to our classmates was just the “icing on the cake”.
    -Barbara

    • Barbara, thanks so much for your comments, as always! I think we all more or less concluded that, while some were unable to come for personal reasons, those who stayed away thinking they would encounter the same tired cliques missed something magical. Personally, I didn’t dance enough.

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