I’ve never been very keen on reunions. I haven’t been to very many. I’ve often been invited to school and university anniversary events, but the longer I’ve been away from the institution, the less I usually want to return. The feeling of alienation that I had when I was a student only strengthens as time passes. And yet – recently, I went to a reunion that was very pleasurable.
It wasn’t a formal reunion: in fact it was the funeral of a friend’s mother. I’ve known David since I was nine, and it was Martin, whom I’ve known for longer (his house was opposite mine when were were growing up) who suggested I attend. He told me that two other school friends would be there. Neither of these I had seen for nearly fifty years. I had a particularly strong visual memory of T: tall and lean, with fair hair and a crewcut, he had been a runner and oarsman, and, like myself, good at English.
Martin and I stood outside the newly built crematorium chapel. We were early, but as people began to arrive, I noticed one crossing the grass from behind a line of cars: tall and lean, with fair hair and a crew cut. It is uncanny to recognise someone with complete surety after fifty years, but T’s athletic lope had also not changed. I recognised J, the other former contemporary, but my memory of him was fuzzier.
After the funeral, conversation at the buffet was highly enjoyable. T’s partner joined in uninhibited discussion of life events of the last fifty years, and the conversation gave no quarter to the solemn occasion. T and I had both spent a number of years teaching secondary English, yet in very different schools. Martin, who had always been known for encyclopedic general knowledge, had reached the semi-final of the BBC Radio Brain of Britain competiton. David had reunited with a partner from whom had separated twenty years before, and she was there with him at the funeral.
It is not hard to say why I found this event so pleasurable. Despite my reticence about meeting again people I had known in the distant past, I have always loved the idea of reconciliation. The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest are two of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Although my contemporaries and I had never formally parted, it was warming and strengthening to see them again.
Attachments formed during our formative years may sustain us in later times. Our identity is formed in relationship. To return to those relationships, with the wisdom and experience of fifty years of differing life trajectories, can be very nourishing.
And, yes, we are going to organise a formal year group reunion.