Garner: Opinion

After decades apart, together again

Johnny Whitfield, columntst The Eastern Wake News and the Garner-Cleveland Record.
Johnny Whitfield, columntst The Eastern Wake News and the Garner-Cleveland Record.

From time to time, we receive pictures of class reunions or announcements about upcoming high school or family reunions. Each picture, each announcement conjures up images of people laughing, studying faces at arm’s length and re-telling old stories, undoubtedly embellished by time.

Oddly enough, two reunions have captured my own attention of late. Earlier this month, I rejoined fraternity brothers and little sisters from N.C. State for a weekend gathering. Last weekend, my high school class held its own reunion. I wasn’t able to attend that event, but when someone sent me a photograph of the occasion, I saw many of those same genuine smiles that made it clear there was a sense of childhood revisited.

No matter the class, no matter the family, there is something cathartic about a reunion. When I gathered with fraternity brothers, there was plenty of reminiscing, but no sense of competition. No one seemed to care who was making the most money, who had the most accomplished children. Instead, it was a chance to catch up on a slice of life from 30 years ago that seemed like yesterday. The conversations flowed just as easily as they did in the 1980s when we were concerned with little other than our grade in Animal Science 200. Words came easily and the conversations were interesting.

High school students are classmates because of their geography (at least they were back in the day). Students went to class together, but often knew little about each other’s families and, in many cases, about their classmates’ lives off the high school campus. But we were tied together nonetheless. We all experienced the excitement or discomfort of proms, homecomings, exam weeks and favorite teachers. For many of us, our high school classmates had been friends for 13 years. That’s more than enough time to build a strong bond.

The fraternity reunion was a little bit different. We were thrown into similiar circumstances by choice. Each of us chose to attend the same university and we chose to pledge the same fraternity and experience the same pledging process. Bonds formed over just four or five years. But they were bonds of choice. And they, too, run deep.

It’s terribly unfortunate that I missed the high school reunion. But I’m beyond grateful for having had the chance to attend the fraternity reunion. With both groups, there are lessons learned that stick with me to this day.

Those feelings aren’t unique to me. In 1984, I went with my father to his 25-year high school reunion. In 2009, I was with him at his 50-year reunion. It was easy to see how comfortable he felt talking to the people he had grown up with, waterskiied with, dated and lost touch with. The boys and girls he grew up with are older, grayer and, in too many cases, no longer with us. But for those who were still there, it seemed like they were 17 all over again. Not a bad way to spend some time.

All those experiences, both mine and my father’s, make me pause a minute when I see those reunion pictures. I study the faces and wonder at how much joy there is in renewing old friendships.