It’s time for another high-school reunion – one of the big splashy parties, not the interim picnics we throw. Although most of the committee’s sessions have been pretty similar over the years – when do we schedule it, where’s the best venue, what do we charge without being excessive – this year’s reunion planning has been a little bit different. Clouded, shall we say.
It’s our 40-year reunion. When we were in high school, Richard Nixon was still president. Lyndon Johnson and Harry S Truman both died our senior year, so closely together that the flag in the quadrangle stayed at half mast for more than 30 days. No one had heard of cell phones, Barry Manilow, or A Chorus Line. It does not seem like 40 years ago.
But as we discussed how many people attended last time, and how we could keep prices down to entice that many this time, one of the committee members suggested that after this reunion, our attendance numbers were probably going to go down. Time is not on our side.
I’m finding that out all too well. I have taken over the responsibilities of class secretary, which includes handling the mailing list, which we keep in a spreadsheet. Over the years, the names tend to stay the same (with the occasional addition or deletion of a married name for the women), but the columns for e-mail address and mailing address change. Sometimes they go blank, when an e-mail bounces or an envelope comes back marked “no such person at this address.”
But what’s been happening more often than I expected, especially after I put together a “lost list” and distributed it to those whose e-mail addresses we had, is the notification of those who have passed away. Our class, perhaps too much, is familiar with death. We lost our first to a Golden Gate Bridge suicide when we were just 15. Another one succumbed to cancer when we were 21. Still another disappeared in San Francisco a few years later; no trace of him has ever been found. Over the years, we’ve lost classmates to plane crashes, diabetes, and sudden heart attacks. The worst ones of all, though, are the ones where the cause of death isn’t listed, which usually mean suicide. Those that pass too soon make the biggest impression. As I’ve written, they’re like the winners of a lottery you wouldn’t want to enter.
This year more than most, I’m having a bit of cognitive dissonance. Many of our classmates, the ones who haven’t made it to the reunions over the years, only exist for me in my yearbooks. There, they’re still 16 and 17. There, life’s ravages haven’t damaged them yet. When I hear that they’re dead, it seems impossible. How can they be dead? They’re so young. What could have happened?
The answer is simple. Life happened. Not all of us have good genes, good luck, and a good outlook. Sometimes the dice roll the other way.
Implicit in what happened is the question of our own mortality. When will our time come? Which reunion will be our last? Who will be left to remember us? And most important, how will they remember us?
I’m hoping that by the night of the reunion, these feelings of loss will have dissipated. We will raise our glass to those who are gone, but spend more time celebrating those who are still with us.