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Why your fortieth class reunion is way more fun than your tenth

Posted by BJ Roche  November 11, 2012 09:04 AM

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In the list of Life's Strangest Moments, few rank higher than pulling out of the driveway of your childhood home to go to your fortieth high school class reunion. Weren't you just sitting there a minute ago listening to "Riders on the Storm" on the radio with whatsisname?

I'd had trepidations about attending, like many others, it turned out. Though I love my hometown now, I couldn't get out fast enough after high school. I hardly know these people anymore, right? And we're all different people now, anyway. Thank God.

But I took a chance--we all did--and here's what happened: we had a lot of fun. This was in part because the hard work of Judy and Bea, and if you have two well-organized, hard working women like that in your class, you know what I'm talking about. Every class needs the sparkplugs that get things going and keep them up and running.

But another reason is that the passage of time softens things considerably. So if you've received your invitation to a reunion and you've been dithering about whether to go, here's my advice: pull on your Spanx, brush in some eyebrows (you too, ladies), and go. Here's why.

You're still here. What the heck? At the tenth reunion, you're certain you'll live forever. At the fortieth, you know you won't. Our reunion included a candle-lighting ceremony for more than a dozen classmates who had passed away. Life is short: why not reach out?

At your tenth reunion, you're ready to eat the bear. By your fortieth, the bear has eaten you. Even the guy most likely to succeed has lost something: hair, a waistline, a marriage, a job, a spouse, a child, a fortune. Or he's gained something he hadn't counted on: an underwater mortgage, 50 pounds, a mother-in-law who needs a GPS chip because she tends to wander out of the house in the middle of the night. These things make you humble, and except for the pathological crumb-bums, most people are nicer at 58 than they were at 28.

At your tenth reunion you can't get enough: White Russians, bong hits, whatever. By your fortieth, you've had enough. By this time most people have totally stopped or significantly reduced their consumption of filter-eroding party enhancers. So they no longer need to explain why they, unbeknownst to you until now, slept with your boyfriend after the Thanksgiving football game. Or how they rigged the class presidential election. Also, it's just way easier to have a conversation when people aren't crying.

When you're 28, 18 doesn't seem so young and you're still right about everything. When you're 58, well.... Once you've been a parent, or worked with young people in any way, you understand just how despicable teenagers can be, and you view your adolescence in a whole new light. "I was an xxxhole," said one former Catholic school classmate as an opening greeting. (And he never had seemed like a bad guy to me.) "Me too!" I said. In fact, while thinking about my high school days in the months preceding the event, I had considered wearing a button that read "I'm sorry." It turns out I could have sold them at the party. One comment I heard later was that people who hadn't really spoken much to one another in high school had ended up in some great conversations. How often does that happen anymore?

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. Our class got "together" way ahead of time on a fantastic Facebook page (thanks again, Judy). And we are still connecting, posting pictures and sharing--not just memories of the past, but who we are today. In the olden days my advice would have been to call your old friends and make sure they're all going, so you'll have a posse to hang with. Facebook makes this easier than ever.

Of course, some moments you can't plan. Toward the end of the evening I found myself in the tiny ladies' room with four other classmates, and, bam! we could have been back at high school between classes in 1970. (What is it with women and restrooms?)

Only this time when the chatter started, it was something about Depends, or the sausage-skin quality of today's bodyshapers, or Sister Ellen, or Mrs. Burridge, a.k.a. "The Matron," the short, hen-like old lady who policed the high school girls' room by pushing the door of the smoke-filled lavatory and bellowing: "Giiirrrls! I hope there are no cigarettes in there!"

Whatever it was, we got laughing so hard that the five of us filed out of the ladies room with tears streaming down our faces.

"What was going on in there?" someone asked, with a look of alarm on his face. Had some long-ago rift been revealed? It's okay, I told him, we were just having a laugh.

Joking in the girls room. Really, the important things just don't change.

So when your invitation arrives, just send your money in and go. If it turns out to be a mistake, you can always leave. But if it's not, it could be the beginning of some beautiful new old friendships.

What's your advice for attending class or family reunions? Share over at the Fiftyshift.com Facebook page. Find links to stories of interest by following us on Twitter and read other stories about midlife Fiftyshift.com

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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