Last month I did something I had never done before: I attended my high school reunion. And it happened to be the 50-year reunion (yes, I’m that old). I don’t know why I had never attended a reunion before, as my graduating class has diligently held them in the past. I suppose it was because I lived out of state, and it was never convenient. Or perhaps it was because my wife was never interested in attending with me (and who could blame her or any other spouse that did not go to the same high school). But I think the absolute truth was I felt I had grown up and moved on.
Since graduating from high school, I have moved at least a dozen times and lived in at least six different cities, and at each stop along the way, I made good friends. I have maintained many of those friendships to this day. I am thankful for that, as a person can never have too many friends.
Then one day, a couple of years ago, an old high school buddy reached out to me. I had not talked to him in years, but it was like we had seen each other just yesterday. That got me thinking about my high school days and reminded me that I had some great friends back in the day. He told me about the upcoming reunion, and I decided, “Why not?” Or, as someone once said, “Old friends are best: where can you find a new friend that has stood by you as long as the old ones have?”
So, how do we make friends? It usually starts by doing things together and learning from each other. One of my favorite scenes from the film Forrest Gump[i] is a good illustration of how it works:
And like Jenny did with Forrest, friends overlook each others’ defects and shortcomings. I like the way someone said it: “There are a good many fools who call me a friend, and also a good many friends who call me a fool.” I am not sure about the first part of that, but the last part is accurate. And speaking of defects, in this scene from Wonder,[ii] it is hard to overlook Auggie’s deformed face. But that is just what Jack Will does:
But as we get older, we no longer share playgrounds and toys as much (or maybe we still do, but the toys get bigger). Then, our close friendships usually need to be built on more than just having someone to play with or with whom we share toys. The noted 17th-century French moralist La Rochefoucauld once said, “The pleasure found in friendship as in love comes more from the things we don’t know about others than from the things we know.” I don’t see it this way. Instead, I agree with this scene from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:[iii]
Although I don’t know the favorite color of most of my friends, I can say we have had some deep conversations, and those conversations have deepened our friendship.
“So, how did the reunion go?
I approached it with a bit of trepidation. I had hoped my wife would come with me, so if it got embarrassing being the wallflower in the corner, at least I would have someone to talk to. I had just about convinced her to join me, but she had Lasik surgery a few days before the reunion, and her doctor would not let her fly. In the end, I decided it would be fitting to show up at the reunion unaccompanied since I had trouble finding dates in high school.
As I neared the country club hosting the event, I wondered how many classmates had peaked in high school, being all downhill from there. Then I realized I was the one with the bald head and who had put on a few pounds. But I would make up for my aging looks with fascinating stories of my successes after high school. At first, I thought I should follow the lead of Michele and Romy from the film Michele and Romy’s High School Reunion and make up a good story, but then, I doubted anyone would believe me if I claimed to have invented post-it notes. So I decided, in the end, to be myself and hope for the best. I just wished a few people remembered me.
I realized my worst fears while standing in the check-in line. A woman I knew well in high school and even took to a Bread concert (the 70’s soft rock group) walked up behind me. “Hi, Kathy,” I said. “How are you after all these years?” She had no idea who I was. After I watched her stammer for a few moments, I said, “I’m Warren Ludlow. Remember me?” And then recognition showed in her face. And suddenly, it was like old times again.
Thank goodness for the nametags that included our high school graduation photos.
I knew I would enjoy seeing my close circle of friends. Like my good friend before them, we picked things up immediately. But as I reminisced with them, I learned a few things I never knew before. For example, one friend had won a battle with cancer. Another had sold his restaurant shortly after I had left the state and spent most of his career running a car rental agency. And in retirement, what does he do? He drives for Uber, of course. And another, I met his wife for the first time and learned that they never had any children and never wanted any.
But what surprised me the most was my interaction with so many of my other classmates. I had many (who were good friends but not my closest ones) come up to me, happy to see me and talk about old times. One woman approached me and asked if I remembered her. I did immediately. We then discovered we had no classes together in high school. Instead, we were classmates in fourth grade.
I laughed with the man I had sat next to in choir for two years when I reminded him how a cute, petite blonde moved into our school district and joined our choir. As she entered the room for the first time, this friend leaned over and whispered, “I’m going to marry that girl someday.” And he did. They are still together after 50 years. And we laughed even louder when he told me he still drives the Pontiac GTO he had in high school.
There were some melancholy moments as well. At the beginning of the event, a classmate read the names of almost 70 classmates who had already died. We all thought we would live forever in high school, but hearing that list reminded me just how fragile life could be.
I got a hug from my old girlfriend (we dated for almost a year after high school graduation). She was my first real love, and I was sure I would marry her one day. But at the time, I was not ready for marriage. She admitted her insecurities led her to dump me and date a man seven years older who was prepared to settle down. She knew it was a mistake from the beginning, but she moved ahead anyway. Their marriage lasted about 15 years. And I wondered for a moment what might have been, but soon realized it was the right decision for both of us. She remarried and seemed happy, and I have enjoyed marital bliss for 46 years.
And then I learned of a missed opportunity (one of many, I’m sure). A woman approached me and gave me a hug (two hugs in one night! That might be a personal record!). She then said, “I just came over to let you know I had a big crush on you in high school.” “Oh, stop,” I said. “No, you didn’t.” but she insisted that she did. I still find that unbelievable. This woman was good-looking, popular (she was a student body officer), and intelligent. I short, she was way out of my league.
I then reminded her that we were both on the planning committee for the junior prom. As we had decorated the cafeteria for the dance, I asked who she was going with. She said no one had asked her. She then asked who I was taking. I told her no one. I had the golden opportunity to get a last-minute date with a classy lady, and I blew it. I said nothing. And I had regretted it long after that. If I had only known she had a crush on me, it could have been the start of a beautiful relationship. But then again, it never would have lasted. She became a biker (not a cyclist) in her adult years and spent much of her time riding her Harley across the country. I could never picture myself doing that—even with her.
One of the saddest things about the reunion is that two of my best friends in high school didn’t come. It has been decades since I have had any contact with either of them. I miss them, and now, I don’t even know how to reach them. But I promised myself I would do my best to renew those friendships as well.
I am not the same person I was 50 years ago, and neither are my friends. But they remain my friends. So, unlike my original feeling, I have moved, but I haven’t moved on—at least not from my friends. For that, I am exceedingly grateful. And as I think about my friends of 50 years ago, I realize now just how much they shaped my life. In short, I agree with Thomas Aquinas, who said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
[i] Forrest Gump:
- Production Company: Paramount Pictures
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the book by Winston Groom)
- Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise
- Release date: November 11, 1994
- Production Companies: Liongate, Participant, Walden Media
- Director: Stephen Chbosky
- Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne
- Starring: Jacob Tremlay, Owen Wilson, and Julia Roberts
- Release date: November 17, 2017
[iii] The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:
- Production Companies: Colorforce and Lionsgate
- Director: Francis Lawrence
- Screenwriters: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (based on the novel by Suzanne Collins)
- Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hensworth
- Release date: November 22, 2013