Friday, August 19, 2011
Reflections on language and re-gatherings...
And now that the event has passed, I have spent the last several days thinking about the people I saw, about the passage of time, and relationships that formed 25+ years ago and how they endure or fizzle out or morph into something altogether new.
The reunion, quite literally, has also been cause for me to think a lot about semantics. The word “reunion” has really been bothering me. In and of itself, it is a fairly benign word and seems to appropriately convey the concept of a group of people coming back together again after a period of separation. But it fails me when I start thinking about the verb form, which, correct me if I’m wrong, should be “to reunite.” Except that after 25 years or even after 5 years for that matter, there is no “reuniting” going on with any group of high school graduates, least of all my graduating class. We were not really very united to begin with, we just went to school together. There was very little unity even within the different cliques and groups of friends that formed over the years. We were united only in our mutual boredom with our education and our zealous pursuit of a ride to school that did not include a big, yellow bus. Thus, I find it irksome that although the “coming back together again” idea of the reunion holds true, the verb form, reuniting, is wholly inadequate to describe what exactly took place.
I keep thinking there should be a word “reune,” which would signify the act of sharing each other’s company again after a period of separation without necessarily imposing the specific requirement of unity within the group. The word should indicate a gathering of the graduates of Manual and East High Schools, an opportunity to be together, to share each other’s company and exchange stories and memories while simultaneously allowing us to be totally disparate. I spent much of my reunion weekend with a friend who I haven’t seen in 16 years, with whom I have kept in touch only sporadically, despite the fact that she was one of my closest friends 25 years ago. She now lives in a different country and she speaks a different language. We do not regularly spend time with any of the same people and we might have a hard time envisioning what each others’ lives really look like on a day-to-day basis. We are not terribly “united,” but at the same time, as soon as we sat down to talk to each other, our conversation seemed instantly familiar and comfortable in a way that most of my daily interactions do not these days. It was lovely.
I looked up the word “commune,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “to communicate intimately.” This seems much more appropriate, in my mind, to describe the experience of being together again with my fellow alums. It only seems to lack the concept of doing something again after a long period, the “re” of reunion. Let us say we re-communed with each other last weekend. Now that, to me, sounds about right.
While the word “intimately” may seem a little strong to describe our conversations last weekend, on some level, there does seem to be a strange intimacy despite the 25 year absence. I even saw several people I had known in elementary school, including three men who were in the same kindergarten class as me. We started kindergarten in 1973. I wasn’t terribly close to any of these fellows, I know only the most trivial things about them. But still, if I mentioned our kindergarten teacher to them and how old and scary and mean she was, I feel confident they would understand my meaning on a much more profound level than my husband does when I tell him the endless stories of how Mrs. Farquhar made me cry on a nearly daily basis. Perhaps that’s not intimacy, just understanding. But there is clearly a level of shared experience that most of us have with just about every other kid we went to school with for those first 18 years of our lives. It was actually really fun to recognize that and just be present with those random members of a long ago cohort. And that moment where one classmate recalled the common physical quirk of our thumbs of differing lengths, which I had sadly forgotten despite my uncanny ability to retain trivial memories of childhood incidents? That was beyond fun. That was sort of a mind-blowing experience for me. Thank you, D.F.
So yes, maybe our reunion was not as momentous as say, the Duran Duran reunion concert tour. None of us was inspired to return to our puffed up hair-dos or the extreme eye make-up styles of the late 80s, unlike the Duran Duran members. I’m pretty sure we’ve aged more gracefully than the average new wave icon. (And lest I sound like I am criticizing an old favorite, I should just come right out and admit that I still listen to the album Rio and the song Save a Prayer still gives me goosebumps. That song is deeply emotional; I love it, I am not too proud to say.) Still, it was a highly entertaining weekend.
I have many other thoughts about the weekend but just how those thoughts choose to exit my brain remains to be seen. On a parting note, I just want to say that in spite of what may have transpired between the years of 1982 and 1986, we did have a fun and funny little community in high school. It’s true that over the years since, I have wanted to disconnect from Denver as completely as possible but that was not due to anyone else’s actions but my own. It was nice to go back, it was nice to re-commune. And for those of you who I missed, I wish you only the best.