July 27, 2015

20 Things I Discovered at my 20-Year High School Reunion

1. There is so much warmth in recognition. I often found myself breaking into a huge smile at the sight of someone I had forgotten about until that very moment, only to see the same smile reflected back at me. 

2. The things I worried about were not the relevant things. There wasn’t a single moment when I felt judged for my appearance, my career, or dumb things I said and did as a teenager.

3. The best conversations were surprises. I walked away from a few conversations thinking, “That might be more than I ever talked to ___ in high school.” These new old friends were as wonderful as they were unexpected.

4. We see ourselves differently through others’ eyes. It's fascinating to juxtapose your self-perception with classmates' memories of what you were like. The truth probably is somewhere in between, and with bigger hair.

5. Men at a 20-year reunion look more different from their teenage selves than women do. Not necessarily older, just different. 

6. Facebook isn’t a spoiler; it’s a fast-forward button. I worried Facebook would take the fun out of high school reunions; you already know what people look like, where they live, and who got married and had kids. It actually improves conversation. You can fast-forward the small talk and get to the interesting topics. “Do you like California?” or “How did you become friends with Dick Van Dyke?”

7There’s an art to introducing yourself to a Facebook acquaintance. I was amused by how many people started conversations with accurate statements phrased as questions, such as, “You live in the Twin Cities, right?” It’s the perfect way to break the ice when you know each other on Facebook, should probably acknowledge that you're aware of the broad outlines of one another's existence, but don’t want to get an important detail wrong or seem like a stalker.

8. Spouses who attend reunions and don't just sulk at the bar deserve Supporting Actor awards. Sam refilled my drinks, kept me from having to stand alone, and befriended several of my classmates and their spouses. To all the non-Spartan husbands and wives who played this role last weekend, I salute you.

9. The older you get, the less relevant it is which “group” you hung out with in high school. Or if you even had a group. 

10. I prefer the company of 38-year-olds to 28-year-olds. At my 10-year reunion, I felt insecure and irrelevant. Maybe it was who I was at 28, or maybe it was all of us. Something softens in our 30s, and it’s not just our waistlines. We are more kind, more interested in each other, and more authentically ourselves. I can’t wait to see what wisdom and grace another 10 years brings us.

11. 21-year-olds are even more baffling. Post-reunion festivities took me to a bar frequented by college students. I've never felt older. The music was loud. The floor was sticky. I saw cautionary tales of binge drinking and poor life choices, and I realized these young adults were likely closer to my daughter’s age than my own. PS: If the girl from the bench on Broadway is reading this, I know why your shoes smell horrible this morning, though I hope for your sake that you forgot. Throw them away, sweetie.

12. Drinks are inexpensive in Fargo. Gin and tonics (gins and tonic?) for $3.25? Cheers! This might partially explain #11.

13. Drinking makes socializing a lot easier. For me, it's the difference between trying to find a non-awkward way to say "Hello" and hugging you for being awesome.

14. Some 1990s music holds up really well. R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Pearl Jam = Yes.  Salt & Pepa = Not so much.

15. It's beautiful to meet someone who has grow into him or herself. Nobody realizes as a teenager how unfinished we all are. Many of us truly come alive when we get out of school, when we find our tribe, or when we discern something important about ourselves. 

16. Life isn't always better in our 30s. Many of my friends and classmates are carrying heavy burdens: divorce, grief, illness. I think we are far too young to be diagnosed with cancer; cancer disagrees. I'm thinking of and praying for my classmates who were feeling sad or anxious at our reunion, instead of joyful and nostalgic. My heart aches for the classmates we lost since graduation. I want to say something profound and try to make sense of it all, but I can't.

17. The kids we used to be are still there. There’s a moment when you’re talking to someone who grew up in your neighborhood. You talk about bike rides and birthday parties, and you remember exactly how it felt to be those kids. You remember what her house smelled like, her mom’s voice, that creaky swingset in the back yard, and little pieces of your childhood that you thought were lost come back together like bits of a puzzle you’ll never finish but you’ll hang on to forever and cherish the pieces you find after you thought you had them all.

18. Everyone has a maximum capacity for mingling. Socializing with new people, even old classmates, is hard work. By the end of the night, I noticed people forming into clusters with their friends, the same groups from high school. It’s not about being exclusive, I realized, as I too retreated to the company of friends who already know my stories. It’s about being exhausted. I’m glad that I talked to as many people as I did. I wish I’d had the time and energy to connect with everybody.

19. Fargo was a special place to grow up. Despite its recent growth and “North of Normal” hipster vibe, the Fargo I grew up in felt quiet, quaint, and oppressively ordinary - like a suburb without a city. There was nothing cool about it, except the winter wind whipping across the prairie. Today, I can see it differently. The oak-shaded neighborhoods of north Fargo, perfect for bike rides. Artsy, revitalized downtown. The abundance of pizzerias and the disarming kindness of strangers. I’m no longer puzzled by the classmates who stayed here or returned; it’s the sort of place that can grab hold of you.

20. It's good to go home. Getting on I-94 and driving east to the Twin Cities, to my house and job and life, I realized that the reunion delivered all of the things I hoped it would: Nostalgia, fun, and some renewed connections with good people. It also made me appreciate where and who I am today. I don't necessarily want to go back to 1995 Fargo, but it's where I came from and I'm glad for it.

My native habitat: Flat land, corn, interesting sky.


Anonymous said...

I loved all of your comments. I challenge you to take them out after each reunion and see if they change. We just met for a small gathering of our 46th reunion and I have to tell you that #9'becomes more evident every get together. Wonderful post! Great reflections.
Sandi Lindstrom, former Fargo Longfellow Teacher

Brent Done said...

Great post Headed to my 40th this fall. It will be my first reunion and I have to say I am taking your words of wisdom to heart.
Brent Done

La Rêveuse said...

Great to read this, and makes me sad to have missed my 20th. Maybe the 25th. ;)

BTW, as a fellow Spartan, I have to say, (whispers) *that's not corn.*

Sorry. Pretty sure that is/was a wheat field. Maybe durum or barley? But definitely not corn. :)

But you? YOU look GREAT! ;)