Original Teenage Soul

The 50th high school reunion

Posted Aug 18, 2016

New York Public Library/Public Domain
Source: New York Public Library/Public Domain

A part of everyone’s soul is imprisoned in high school, serving a lifetime sentence without parole. ~James Hillman

Family and high school reunions are not for everybody. Many people avoid the high school variety as they consider the sad or conflicted memories of difficult years. Or they just have drifted away from those memories and see them as unimportant to the adult they have become.

Many others, me included, dive into these memory-marinated events with fervor. What’s not to like? One of my buddies was the emcee at his recent 50th high school reunion and his current wife and former wife, the one he met in high school and with whom he had children, were both in the audience as he spun his high-nostalgia web from the podium. (High nostalgia is memory that is harvested and savored; low nostalgia is more like sentimental/gossipish rehash.)

John Schuster
Source: John Schuster

This is my 50th high school reunion year. I went to two high schools, so I am doing double time here. One of my high schools, St. Xavier, the Jesuit school in Cincinnati, had an official event only some of us attended, and then a smaller group gathered (see picture) with some friends from other classes, and a very special teacher thrown in. This happens all summer long, year after year, all over the country as late sixty-somethings encounter and retrieve the important events and people who shaped and witnessed the emerging person they were launching into the world.

The soulful social psychology of this weekend was not lost on any of us. We were celebrating the best parts of us that only these old friends know in its purest forms. We were the ones there for each other when first loves, and deep encounters with beauty and social justice and so much more came crashing into our identities. We were children of the ’60s don’t you know, so racism, patriarchy, the first Earth Day and war of the Vietnam variety all shaped our experiences and our values, the ones we live and vote today.

I have written about our English teacher, Fr. Tom Savage, who was our Robin Williams equivalent from Dead Poet’s Society. He forever activated our poetic imaginations. Or the young Jesuit teacher, Jack MacNamara, who taught us about economic/social inequities, and who, like us now, is not so young (and is the fourth from the right in the picture).

Hillman’s opening quote of this post points out the soulful direction these reunions can have. And poet W. B. Yeats captures what we are doing as we return to our pasts and retrieve some of the potent innocence of those times:

From mirror after mirror
No vanity displayed
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made  

New York Public Library/Public Domain
Source: New York Public Library/Public Domain

If we get a glimpse of that face, we may still reclaim, if only in small parts, the innocence and fresh energy that the wisdom of old age can still protect and project.

I just witnessed a dear work friend decide to go to her 50th, after not seeing much reason to at first, as part of her ritual to find her face, before life and the world finish forging the imprints they started on the day of our birth. As Homer Simpson said of his young son Bart, “Ah, the boy reminds me of me when I was young, before the world crushed my spirit.”

Crushed? Maybe not. Damaged and persevering and yet grateful and graced? Maybe. Our original face was wrinkle free. We have earned our wrinkles and whatever wisdom we may have garnered.

May the class of ’67 find as much in these events next summer as the class of ’66 did this summer.

Your year, and a glimpse of your almost original self, awaits you.

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