Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

40th Class Reunion Offers Insights

August 10, 1998

These were people I didn't really know. We'd gone to school together and graduated 40 years ago from Cleveland High School in Seattle, Washington.

Of the group, maybe I was close to a handful in high school while the rest were familiar names and faces. When we matched the names with the faces then I could make the connection. It was weird. For most, they were definitely recognizable. The basic thread of personality was also discernable.

Despite our advancing age, it seemed like we were forever young. Our (it is hard for me to say word "our" - I want to say "their") bodies were decidedly wanting in terms of youthful beauty.

It doesn't matter. It matters but it doesn't. Each of us still cares about appearance but there is also a graceful acceptance of, "So what? This is what I look like." No pretense. No competition. Of all the insecurities and conceits of life, that one felt good to leave behind.

Seattle is not small town America. People went separate ways and dispersed into a big world. Except for the Italians. They didn't go far away. They kept up their friendships over the years. For them, the reunion was delicious. For me, and I'm sure some of the rest, it was an evening of time warp where we could juxtapose adolescent memories and middle-aged realities.

There was a time in the evening program where everyone described notable events from the past five years and talked about their lives.

Careers or career satisfaction were not a topic of discussion. It's not that careers didn't matter. It just wasn't that important or appropriate to talk about careers when people reviewed their lives for their classmates.

Much of the talk was about retirement or the hopeful anticipation of retirement. That is where they were at. I was the one out of time sequence with an eleven-year-old at home. That makes for a different life trajectory.

I don't know what to think about retirement. I don't. I don't even think about it. It surprised me how eager and compelling retirement had become for my peers. Give me another ten years or so and maybe I'll be joining the chorus.

It was wonderful to hear about the long lasting, lifelong marriages and their sheer delight in being grandparents. The classmates who had gratifying second marriages were appreciative of how life was working out for them. The contrast between their failed first marriages and the satisfaction of their later marriage made marriage seem even more sweet.

One man talked about marrying a classmate that he had connected with at the last reunion. His happiness was contagious. His openness about his eventual success in courtship was a big "feel good" moment for the rest of us.

The single, unattached graduates were there. A few had spouses die and let us get a fleeting glimpse of their grief. Others were quite open about failed marriages and failed relationships and their ongoing struggle to connect with a companion. The pain was obvious, but so too was their desire to pair up with another human being.

In this way, they are still adolescents. Still on a quest. Still searching. Still hopeful. There was no bitterness. No resignation. No anger. These were lonely human beings hoping to share a life with someone who they could love and be loved in return. Though successful in their careers, that wasn't what mattered to them, at least at this point.

The well worn singles were living proof of this verity: Connecting with a partner and getting it right was the one unmet challenge of their lives they were not going to give up on. Hope springs eternal. The human impulse to grow and improve is powerful. Age doesn't matter. I was rooting for them. Maybe by the next reunion things will be better.

Another powerful theme of the evening was that a loving marriage is important. Relationships with children and grandchildren are important. The other parts of life pale when it comes to family life. We need to nourish and protect our family bonds. That is what really matters. There isn't anything as soul satisfying as growing old together in a delightful marriage.

One reunion evening every five years is just about right. Five years from now, I imagine I'll hear a lot more retirement stories. More about grandchildren. And maybe some heartwarming stories about new found love and new marriages that really work.

Ten years from now maybe I'll start to hear about health problems intruding in people's lives. I’ll hear how they are dealing with the challenges of aging. In fifteen years I imagine I'll hear sweet stories of appreciation about lifelong companions and pearls of wisdom about life.

I can't imagine myself in those shoes, but I couldn't imagine being at this spot in life either.