Rumblings started months ago on social media. My former classmates in the US were planning a 30th high school reunion this August.
Two thoughts occurred: 1) how did I get so old, so fast? 2) Could I go?
One answer to question No 1 is the time train zooms at ever-increasing speed. Ferris Bueller, the fictional lead in a movie popular when I was a teenager, said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
I started mulling question No 2 late last year. Could a reunion be one way to follow Ferris' counsel, to stop and look around? I googled articles about pros and cons of attending such gatherings. Writers offered suggestions such as it's probably not a good idea to go if your high school/college years were difficult; if you were the class nerd or bullied.
On the other hand, consider attending if your goal is reuniting with friends you had been close with, provided the distance and degree of difficulty in taking part are not so great they'd void possible benefits.
There was consensus going to a reunion to see who got fat was not a good idea. Also, we have Facebook, that virtual meeting place where friends and voyeurs can keep comments to themselves from the comfort of their phone like, "I wouldn't have recognised Joe Bloggs. He's bald and his belly hangs over his pants." Kim, on the other hand, still resembles the fit basketball player I knew in school.
I have never attended any of my high school class reunions. Not the 10th or 20th, when I lived in Washington State. My hometown, Ashtabula, Ohio, was about five hours by plane, seemingly too far to travel for a day or two making small talk with people I used to know. And now, well … I'm not out to win the distance award.
Several months ago, I decided to bring my children to Europe during July. It would be a reward for nine months as a mostly-solo parent while my husband works in another region and comes home each fortnight for a weekend. Miss 14 starts exams next year, possibly making this our last chance for an extended July holiday.
I can rationalise all I want, but this is an escape from what's real, cold and often lonely. I wanted to reconnect with friends, including former students I'd hosted and classmates from my exchange year in Luxembourg.
I've savoured this time. I've eaten pasta, bread, cheese fondue and chocolate as though each meal were my last. I've also spent hours talking with people I hadn't seen in eight years when I last visited Europe.
Last week, five former classmates from my Luxembourgish school met me at an Italian restaurant in the middle of the tiny country. They had changed in appearance slightly since I last saw them – some (not all) were greyer and heavier. Others were still fit, with just a few lines around the eyes revealing time's passing.
What had not changed were personalities – the class comedian was still cracking jokes, imitating the professor who used to twirl his BMW keys around his fingers while lecturing; the kind mama was looking after her own teenagers instead of peers; the doting boyfriend became the husband (who still resembles a cross between James Dean and Matt Dillon).
The class organiser and faithful friend, Jean-Marie, is still organising. Something painful and significant happened the year we were in school together – his father died. I attended my first funeral. I was 17 and unsure what to do with the toilet brush I'd been handed while in a queue beside the casket (it was not a toilet brush and contained holy water I was meant to sprinkle). Jean-Marie visited me in the States and has hosted my family and me several times, spoiling us with good food and even better champagne.
The half-dozen of us chatted for several hours in the same language I worked hard to learn when I arrived in the Grand Duchy – Luxembourgish. It may not make sense to learn a tongue spoken in a country of 425,000 people (in 1998; today the population sits around 590,000), but it was important to know what my host family and classmates were saying, even when they weren't catering to me.
Luxembourgish has continued to tie me to my second home. An American living there, Mike McQuaide, wrote he was impressed to learn the way to say "this is" in Luxembourgish is "dat ass". He writes, "French might be the language of love, but only Lëtzebuergesch is the language of 'dat ass.' "
Somewhere between antipasto and espresso, I realised this was a class reunion. We didn't need months to plan or to hire a venue. I didn't need to rent a sports car, though René gave me a ride in his Fiat convertible.
We only needed to reconnect – to touch a part of our pasts still living within.