Sunday, August 20, 2006

Class Reunion

Warning: the following blog post is decidedly maudlin. The self-serving remarks are the sole result of posting on a Sunday, and are not the views normally held by the author on any other days of the week. Tomorrow we will return to your regularly scheduled postings of biking, work, and life in Norway.

My twenty year class reunion is nearing--- Labor Day weekend. It will be our first time back in the US since we moved. I must be getting old and sentimental, because I actually am looking forward to this.

For many years, I had a real ambivalence about the 80s and my high school experience. Pardon me while I wax autobiographical for a moment. I am from a small town that much resembles Mayberry. It has changed a little with the recent influx of Mexican laborers who work in the non-union factories in town— and from the newly built riverboat casino. But back when I lived there, it was your typical mid-American town of about 2000 people.

I don’t think it is any secret that I really didn’t like living there at the time. There were simply too few people. I graduated in a class of 54 students. It is just a step or two beyond a one room school house. But don’t think for a minute that the size of the school had anything to do with academic quality. Our class was off the charts in standardized test results, college entrance exams, etc. Hey, it was Iowa. At least I realized that high school would never be “the best years of my life.” My goal was to get a decent education and go off to college. Beyond that I had no clue what I would do.

I also figured out that I could get an almost free education through scholarships, so I threw myself at getting good grades and ended up with a bunch of scholarships that paid for most of my education at a private university—but that is another story altogether. Somehow, I ended up as class valedictorian. It generally is not the best path to social popularity to be that academic, but it was a small town where everyone played a variety of roles. I doubt I could have ever played football or basketball as I had, if I went to a metro school.

With just 54 students, we all knew each other too well. Most of us began kindergarten together. I think I knew everyone’s parents. There is something claustrophobic about spending years in that kind of environment, where most peoples’ destinies are well-established before first grade. But it doesn’t really matter. We were all in the same boat, and tried to make the best of it. I am sure that if I went to a huge school, there would have been an entirely different set of “issues.”

To make high school even more challenging, at the height of my need to establish my independence, I was attending the same school where my father taught. Children of known authority figures, like clergy, police, or teachers, are usually socially doomed in some way. Actually, I think that I managed the circumstances OK. In hindsight, I didn’t have to endure any of the cruel hazings that many of my classmates went through. So my parentage definitely had some benefits.

Of course, life at college quickly confirmed how different life could be elsewhere. I loved college life— for the most part. Some of the late-80s materialism was a bit much, and career-wise, with a full twelve years of Reagan-Bush politics, I was a little nihilistic by the end. MBA grads were taking tickets in movie theaters— I certainly wasn’t ramping up to fit into a specific career. Besides, everyone drummed that businesses all want liberal arts grads. That was a myth that should have been debunked a long time ago. But there I was. I figured my major really wouldn't matter much anyway. We were all supposed to be dead from a nuclear blast well before my student loans would ever be paid off. It was a real zeitgeist.

I never really kept in touch with my high school classmates. I attended the five and ten year reunions. I skipped number 15, as it seemed to be a meaningless interval. Five years is probably too soon. Not much happens the first five years anyway.

My parents are not from the town where they still live. I doubt they ever imagined they would live there the rest of their lives when they moved there some 40 years ago. We have no ancestral roots there. I actually wouldn’t object if they retired somewhere warm, but I don’t see that happening. Most of my classmates who still live in the area probably have family going back at least 100 years. I have never felt those kinds of roots, but I respect those that do.

It is strange that I ended up so far from home— in Norway of all places. I can assure you that there was nothing in my past that would have predicted this. I was the guy who turned down a semester abroad during college because, well, I really don’t know. Somehow I had some idea that travel abroad was really, really foreign. I had never flown on a commercial plane until I was in my mid-20s. Before meeting my wife, I had only flown three times. Now, there are some months when I fly three times.

I guess where I am going with this is that for me, this reunion is a little like holding a mirror to my life. I really don’t care to compare my life with what my classmates have done, although I am sure some comparisons are inevitable. Rather, it symbolizes “what have I done the past twenty years?” Twenty years? I was only 17 when I graduated!

When I think back to being 17, nothing in my life has turned out like I expected it to—mainly because I had no expectations. I had no game plan, no timelines, no agenda. Some people may consider that to be a little aimless or unfocused, but all along the way my needs have always been met. Besides, getting there is half the fun. On the big things, like moving to Norway, we carefully planned and mapped out as much as we could. But even so, it involved a huge leap of faith, since not everything can be planned —we had no jobs waiting for us, for example.

Rather than regarding these “how did I get here” absurdities as Zelig moments, they just illustrate how small the world is, and how easy it is to reshuffle the deck and make huge changes with our lives.

But back to the reunion: I am genuinely looking forward to it. It is interesting how time can color my perspective. We all went to the same school and shared most of the same realities for a major portion of our most formative years. All things considered, I had it easy in high school compared to many people. And I don’t take myself too seriously to be able to see those years for what they really were- a rather innocent time when we weren’t really kids and we weren’t yet adults. And I could have lived in a larger city or attended a larger school and faced an entirely different set of issues, or my life may have turned out exactly the same way.

There is really only one thing missing in my life, and that is well on its way and due in January. OK, in all fairness, that is also something we carefully planned out. They say no one is really ever ready to be parents, but can’t imagine that we would ever be more ready.

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