My wife and I attended our fiftieth high school reunion. Most of the chatter was about how everyone else looked. They even gave an award to the person who had aged the least. I didn’t win. But I felt I was first runner-up because people greeted me by name—then I remembered my name tag was stuck to my shirt. My wife told people they hadn’t changed a bit but when one guy growled, “You saying I was bald and beer-bellied back then?” she pointed to my white cane and told him I was the one saying everybody looked the same as they did on graduation day.
To classmates, I described progressive blindness not as the end of the world, but as a pain in the ass. When I got tired of the “pain in the ass” part, I said that it meant not doing some things I used to do and learning how to do other things differently or that I thought it helped my problem-solving skills or that I felt I’d become more imaginative. Once in a while, I said that blindness wasn’t the end of the world and I couldn’t see it from here anyway. As the night wore on, I said simply, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you” and tried to keep a straight face.
And then there was Annie King, MIA from past reunions, telling me she’d named her firstborn son after me. “Well, partly,” she hastened to add, “I like the name, too.” I told Annie King’s husband that Annie had been my first girl friend—not my first girlfriend—my first girl friend and that I’ve had many female friends since, including my wife. I told Annie’s husband that women friends are a source of wisdom and perspective. Annie’s husband nodded his assent, perhaps understanding, perhaps wondering what kind of kook his wife had been pals with.
A trio of male class officers gave speeches. They told how their Midwestern virtues of faith, work and self-reliance had enriched them. But, to me, their pride exceeded their humility. And when they read the names of the Top Ten Boys and ignored the Top Ten Girls, my wife cried foul. “I felt unworthy in high school. Now that I finally like myself, these guys make me feel invisible.”
I concluded that these reunion speeches rivaled Facebook for self-indulgence. I silently petitioned our class officers to talk of issues deeper than upward mobility or the big game against East High. Wasn’t a passing reference to the victims of wars then and since, women’s rights or the rule of law in order? I wanted the speakers to give a shout out to Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. After all, the headline graduation morning read, ”RFK Shot Dead in LA.”
Maybe I misjudged my contemporaries, maybe I missed the point of a class reunion, but wasn’t it relevant to mention the crucible that forged us in 1968? The divisive trauma of today’s civics lesson? This night, the state of the union was whispered in dark corners by people acting like spies. Perhaps secrecy was the safest way to express an opinion, given that in any gathering these days, it’s likely that half the crowd views the other half as the enemy.
People are incorrigibly themselves and my wife and I are unapologetically political. I whispered that, given Annie’s and other women’s evident delight at seeing me, I must have shown them respect in high school. Then I hastened to connect my past deeds with current events, namely Judge Kavanaugh, confirmed to the Supreme Court that very day. Given my wife’s and my experience with what kind of high school drunk I’d been, we decided to do one better than Kavanaugh and find, not 65, but 66 female classmates who would vouch for my character. I liked our odds—ours was a big graduating class.