Tomorrow will be the exact date and day, because it was Monday June 24, 1963 that 348 members of the Class of 1963 at Mamaroneck High School officially graduated.
This weekend was our 50th reunion, about which I offered some preliminary reflections yesterday.
I drove home to Virginia this morning, remarkably making the trip from Rye NY where I was staying in 4 hours. Along the way I reflected about the weekend, about the past, and even pondered the future.
A number of my classmates are Facebook friends - many asked how my wife is doing, as they are aware of her situation because I post the links to my diaries on Facebook. That was nice,
Yesterday was a very different day - for me it started with conversations in the hotel lobby. Then many of us gathered at Walter's Hot Dog Stand on Palmer Avenue across from the high school, to eat, to share, to catch up. A few additional people had joined us by then. Last night we had a dinner and a dance with a live band - and yes, many did their best to dance as they had back when we were schoolmates! I chose to pass on that, although I love to dance, because until Leaves on the Current can again dance with me I will not dance by myself or with anyone else.
There of course were more conversations. People exchanged contact information. Hundreds of photos were taking, with cameras, with notebooks, with cell phones. Perhaps we will eventually gather all of those together, to be able to share with one another, and with those of our classmates who could not join us.
And now? I want to gather together some thoughts and observations.
We have our share of celebraties in our class. Yet, as a good friend noted, during Friday's sharing we seem to have moved past the point of having to prove ourselves to one another, to mention our accomplishment. Other things are more important, for many family.
We range from those of us who never had biological children to those with great-grandchildren.
Many of us have buried both parents, a very few have both parents still alive, a few more still have at least one.
Some have lost spouses to illness.
More than a few of us have moved beyond our first marriages, in many cases finally figuring out what it takes to make a marriage work.
By some measures we are old - 67 and 68. Some younger spouses, a few older spouses. We are all eligible for Social Security and Medicare, although some have not as yet taken advantage.
Some of us very much show our ages - the hair is gray, if we still have it. The skin may show the effects of too much sun over the years. We are heavier.
But others could easily pass for 10-15 year younger. Some are remarkably fit - perhaps giving the rest of us a momentary twinge of envy.
We had two classmates serve as police officers.
I am far from the only teacher - and one classmate, in retirement, substitutes regularly in a school near where he lives.
We have our lawyers. We have doctors of various sorts, including psychiatrists. We have social workers, business people, artists.
We seem to have become more tolerant as we have aged - perhaps we have reached a point that we no longer have things to prove, we begin to accept ourselves, and thus are far more accepting of others.
How I wish we had been better able to do this earlier in our live.
How I wish I had been better able to do this earlier in my life.
One classmate remarked yesterday that he had found the sharing on Friday interesting. One person had reflected on a good friend who had died, someone followed with mention of a fight he had had with that person in 4th grade - and lost! Others shared embarrassing moments, then one classmate opened the door talking about the marital discord in his family that had led to his leaving our class, although he wound up playing basketball for a rival high school, which made his senior year very interesting, with two games between the schools.
Others shared about the losses of spouses, about how their perspective had changed.
I was told by others that they felt what I shared was remarkable and moving - perhaps. It was not so odd for me to do so - after all I share the experiences of my life here, and what I shared was in the context of others having opened the door.
For me, that led to some very interesting conversations, off-line if you will. Some people opened up to me about things in their lives. One shared how years after something he had said to a classmate he had sought that classmate out to apologize, and the intended recipient knew what he was going to say, about something years earlier. Trust me, the peace was there, and a deepened mutual respect - for acceptance, for willingness to take ownership for a hurt years later.
I am not alone in having pursued a spiritual path through my life. One good friend has gone from the casual Reform Judaism of our youth to being seriously observant, but in a way in which he does not impose upon others. It matters to him, it helps him have a center and a purpose to his life. I was told that another classmate has also become a serious Quaker, only the person who told me that could not remember which woman had told him.
Many now turn to their legacies. For some of course the focus of that will be children and grandchildren. For others, they have moved from the business activities of earlier years to service and non-profits. One good friend now services as a respite person for those serving as caregivers - I think mainly in hospice situations, caring for a spouse or parent at home. Another now helps run a non-profit seeking to provide the right kind of early childhood support - making sure that it is FUN for the kids.
I have often noted how much I have benefited from the paths I have followed. I have often remarked about the three institutions that most shaped me - what was then National Music Camp in Interlochen, Haverford College, and my brief service in the Marines.
You will note that I did not include my schooling, elementary or secondary.
Starting in 8th grade, my life began to change, and not in a good way. First I missed several weeks with chicken pox. And then the problems of a dysfunctional family began to have a huge impact.
I discovered as a result of my sharing that I was not the only one with parents with substance abuse problems, but if you weren't falling down drunk somehow people didn't seem to notice or talk about it. Sometimes our closest friends did not know. We had barriers behind which we hid our pain and suffering, and for some it is still difficult to let go of those, although when people from our generation do we are sometimes surprised by how much love and support we get from others, perhaps because it empowers them to also become vulnerable.
vulnerable - that is I think a key. We can let go of ambition. We can admit when we need others. We can take responsibility for the hurts we have done.
Life is too precious, because we know we have all lived over 2/3 of our lives, perhaps 3/4.
We joke about a 75th anniversary, but we realize that for some this will have been their last reunion - perhaps they will be too infirm to travel (and we had people come not only from California and Florida, but from Honolulu and Brazil). Or at the next reunion their pictures and names might be added to the almost 40 of our class who have now passed on.
That is more than ten percent of us.
We know we are mortal - we have watched parents, siblings, in some cases children, and spouses and classmates. We have spouses we care for now, or who care for us.
I have a more detailed memory of a lot of common past. I do not have an eidetic memory, but when something catches my attention it stays forever.
That could lead to nursing old wounds and grudges.
I prefer that I remember the small kindnesses that made a difference, even when those offering them perhaps did not apprehend at all the pain with which I wrestled during my final four plus years of public school.
It should only have been 3 plus. I was actually enrolled in a prep school for the final year of high school. My parents were waiting for both my sister (who had graduated from high school in '61) and me to be out of the house so that they could divorce. The summer between my last two years in high school I was in Interlochen and realized that I would be going to a school where I would know no one - remember, I am shy. No one would know me - at least a few of the adults in my high school knew what I was going through, including the principal with whom I had several long talks beginning my sophomore year. I called my father up and told him I did not want to go into that unknown situation, that as unhappy as I was - both at home and at school - I preferred the known hell, because at least I knew what to expect.
He was not happy to forfeit the deposit. So I returned for a senior year, where I was fortunate to have a remarkable man as my AP US History teacher - the very first teacher I had had in school who found a way to get me to start taking responsibility for my gifts.
That had a profound effect upon me not only as a student, but along with those who helped shape me at Haverford over an interrupted period spanning ten years, greatly influenced me as a teacher. First, they had made a difference in my life when I was troubled. Second, I learned from them the importance of focusing on the individual student.
I grew up in a home that was comfortable financially. But my parents, for all their problems, loved my sister and I, sacrificing some things they might have done to encourage our gifts, to support our interests.
And the community in which I grew up? Perhaps only at the distance of what is now five decades am I beginning to realize how much I got from it.
I have not been that close to classmates, although when I used to travel on business I would contact people in the cities to which I traveled.
This weekend I reconnected with some people ... I do not want to go another five years without sharing.
This weekend I let myself be vulnerable.
This weekend I discovered what remarkable persons some of those whose lives have intersected mine are now, and in retrospect, with the details of my memory, I can see intimations of that even in our school days together.
There were those with whom I ran cross-country
There were those with whom I was in chorus, or orchestra, or dramatics.
There were especially those of us who shared Thomas Rock as our AP US History teacher.
There were those I knew from the youth group at Larchmont Temple.
There were a few who perhaps were unkind to me or others, but more who even then tried to find ways to be kind.
I did not know how much some of my classmates respected my mind - while I might have been one of two National Merit Scholars, I was not in the top third of the class academically.
This weekend there were physical hugs.
This weekend there were emotional affirmations.
This weekend I, like many of my classmates, re- discovered how much we have been a part of each others, even if in some cases this is the first contact we have had in 50 years.
I took a little trip to my hometown ... so began a song of our youth by Paul Anka.
On the trip I discovered much of value
I know I was not alone.
Reunions could be painful.
Except for the losses we all have had, this was not.
This was affirming.
I thank my classmates, especially those who once again took upon themselves the task of organizing this event.
I hope that those of you reading this who have the opportunity consider what you might gain from going to a reunion and letting yourself be open to whatever might happen.
I'm glad I did.