In the past three weeks, I’ve been to a family reunion and a high school class reunion. We said all the usual things: Great to see you. . . Nice to see you. . . Happy to see you. . . Are you still managing the Lobster Hut? . . . Are you still teaching? . . . Do you still live in New York? . . . How’s your sister, and wasn’t she a nurse? . . . Is this your daughter? . . . How many grandchildren now? . . . I’m sorry to hear about your mother. . . . I was sorry to hear about your brother. . . . How many years have you two been married now? . . . Whatever happened to Old So-and-So?
It was all good — good any time a scattered family and a diaspora classmates can gather for something other than a funeral. And it’s especially true for families and classes of the last 50 years, as we Americans became more mobile and willing to settle in distant places.
People catch up in the short time we get at reunions. The two I attended — one held in a park by a beach; the other a two-evening affair in my hometown in Massachusetts — were cheerful and reassuring. . . . Reassuring that many of the people who were once part of my every-day, or part of my every-week, are still within reach. Facebook, text messages, emails — they are helpful but can’t provide a familiar pat on the back from a high school teammate or a hug from a cousin.
Some might think it odd to express love outright to people you no longer see for years at a time. Some might think affection among cousins and classmates abides and goes without saying.
But what goes without saying shouldn’t go without saying, so I’ll just say it here:
Life becomes uncertain and ungraspable as we go through personal and social changes, but we can all turn to memory for reassurance that the center holds, that there’s a core to our existence. The core was formed long ago — “in the golden sunrise of our lives,” as a classmate put it — by family and friends, and while death takes its share with the passage of time, those of us who survive take the strength of the core with us. It is always with us. It was built in love, and that’s what survives.
To call it nostalgia is to demean it and make it seem trivial. It’s anything but that.
The unions that were formed at life’s core — with our cousins, with our classmates, alive or now absent — remain. The re-union affirms that. It strengthens us. It sends us on our way again, reassured, knowing that you’re never really walking alone.
What goes without saying — to cousins and classmates — shouldn’t go without saying, but pardon me as I step aside for John Lennon, who said it best with lyrics that appear on the end-page of my high school yearbook.
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.