The Third Third

Reunion -- Part II

I figure it’s not fair to write about a Class Reunion In Theory and not report back on the Real Thing. So here goes: It was great fun! I’ve been trying to figure out why, exactly, and I have a number of thoughts, none of them standing alone an adequate explanation but taken together, perhaps, a decent analysis. First among these is the feeling, albeit fleeting, that you’re 21 again. These are, after all, the people you lived with then, and Regression is easy. Our kids do it when we over-parent them; at age 30, they can act 11. So why couldn’t we, ensconced in an old-time dorm with a “bell desk,” flash back to that time before computers, cell phones and email, back even before man set foot on the moon or woman ran for President, to our young, ambitious, invincible, filled-with-potential selves? Laughter comes easily, and erases decades on our faces and in our minds, almost as if in re-connecting as in one of those opening scenes of the musical *Mama Mia!* (“Ann!” “Susie!” “Molly!” “Janetha!” “Jayne!”) we fuel each other with the elixir of youth. Remembered youth anyway. But the sights and sounds of the campus also evoke something more complex, some nagging bad feelings, because, while we were more frivolous 44 years ago, we were, most of us, not all that happy. It turns out each of us thought the Other the model student, while we believed we were ourselves failures, not only on the social scene (“You had dates your freshman year?!!”), but also in the classroom -- in French, math, Greek, and phys. ed. – where professors demeaned us, the so-called “cream of the (academic) crop” with caustic comments and D’s about which, until this weekend, we had rarely told anyone. And, apparently, almost everyone felt alienated by virtue of where she came from, whether it was Greece, a small town in the Midwest, or 30 minutes away. What I, for example, read as sophistication in one of my classmates I had dared not even approach turned out to have been catatonic loneliness and anxiety. Who knew? Which brings us to our older and wiser selves. Gratefully, I might add. We seem to have been stressed and stretched to a state of gentle relaxation, and in finally being open and friendly and happy with each other, in engaging with and caring about one another, we are able, now, to create and re-create relationships with the potential to heal all that selfish youthful angst and affirm the lives we have independently and in the aggregate, lived. We journalists share news of the job market slipping out from under us as newspapers fold and news bureau budgets are cut, and trade stories of our reinvention as writers of a different sort. Those who work in nonprofits reveal a seemingly recent understanding that for all the good feelings they’ve experienced by making a difference in lives and in their communities through their work, it wasn’t something they could take to the bank; they are worried about retirement and their solvency. Mothers talk of grown kids launched, the challenges of communicating without emotional catastrophe with their oxymoronic “adult children,” and the heartbreak of a son or daughter lost in or broken by the wide, wide world, despite their efforts. Many wives speak with no little incredulity of marriages that have thrived for 40 or almost 40 years; some defy statistics and introduce new, first-time husbands; and all of us listen to other friends voicing the palpable pain of yet another husband’s or partner’s betrayal, or, too often, death. Life isn’t, it turns out (duh) as we planned it from the textbooks; we must, we understand, improvise. And improvise becomes the buzzword of the weekend. Then there was the kindness. The kindness, for example, of a hug and the words “I’m sorry” when there’s nothing else to say to a distraught mother or ex-wife or underemployed professional. Kindness, too, in affirmation – women who stopped to say how much they enjoyed what you wrote in the record book, or what you said at dinner the other night, or how unchanged you look, how much they like your hairdo or your dress or your green shoes, or marvel at your voice, even how absolutely adorable and precious your grandchildren are. Generous kindness, too, in acknowledging who and what we remembered, (or failed to remember), what we could see (or not see) on the name tags, and how hard it was to navigate the hills, despite our conviction that we were, really, quite fit. The accommodations and food were nothing to write home about. But the experience was nourishing nevertheless. I fed on the strength and the laughter of these remarkable women I went to college with and returned home more grateful than ever for that privilege. (One of my friends called her 86 year-old mother Saturday night after a particularly stimulating discussion with friends just to thank her, she said, for all the hours, indeed the years she spent with fifth graders so that her daughter could go to Wellesley.) I also came home with a deep appreciation for much that I might otherwise take for granted – my health, my steady, loving husband, my caring, productive children, and our relative stability and security. And then, Wellesley being Wellesley, and I being one of its dutiful products, I also left campus with a renewed sense of commitment in my sixties to the causes we embraced back in the sixties, chief among them women’s and civil rights, peace, and justice, because it was painfully clear, as we reflected on our past, that, while 40 years have gone by, our goals have not yet been achieved. We have more work to do. I wish, as do many of my classmates, that I had a clearer sense of how and where to act most effectively. But I’m thinking about it, and so are they. And already, someone is starting to plan our next Reunion. We all hope to be there.
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