And here we are a couple of billion heartbeats later...or maybe 85% of us will have survived to the reunion and perhaps half will have the guts (and access, freedom, spending money and interest) to rehash our traumatic adolescence anyway. But if that's all there is, we might as well stay home and avoid confronting the potential social nightmare with people who can't hear each other in the first place and whose venom has lost its sting.
Hello Time Travelers,Based on the number of laps of the sun completed, each of us has the high honor to participate in the annual Yunger Games. Congratulations to us all.I assume everyone in the Class of '62 is enduring a bewildering panoply of conflicting thoughts, some pleasant and some chilling, as we careen toward our fiftieth high school reunion later this year. And this self-indulgent pummeling will only become compounded as many of us begin the countdown to the fiftieth college reunions that glower in the fog of the future four years later. Being a shamelessly rabble-rousing curmudgeon, I thought I might open up a free-for-all forum on the topic before the plane tickets and hotel reservations have to be finalized. Please send all your responses and complaints to Alice Kerr, the eighth grade English teacher who would have me drawn and quartered for my penchant for run-on sentences of frustrating prolixity.
You are encouraged to drag out your favorite cliches about how quickly the tempis is fugiting, or how you once looked at hourglass figures on the sand but now you just figure how much sand is left in the hourglass, or you are panicked by the latest ravages of age, whether they be deceased follicles, flaccid flesh in copious layers, gargantuan wattles, or those annoying breakdowns of once flawless organs and senses that served you so well since VJ Day.And before the fateful reunion rolls around, you must practice in front of the harsh reflection staring back gauntly from the bathroom mirror, saying, "You haven't changed a bit!", in a sincere tone of voice that does not make you collapse on the floor from the blatant lie you are telling yourself and your friends from another era...that heady rush of chaotic years in the sixties when we were the envy of all the geezers. Now we are the geezers, so if no one envies us, whom should we envy? We all knew it was coming, but we thought a half century would take an eternity to get here. However, like the Swiss railway, it didn't.And here we are a couple of billion heartbeats later...or maybe 85% of us will have survived to the reunion and perhaps half will have the guts (and access, freedom, spending money and interest) to rehash our traumatic adolescence anyway. But if that's all there is, we might as well stay home and avoid confronting the potential social nightmare with people who can't hear each other in the first place and whose venom has lost its sting.So I thought it might be fun to speculate about three things that actually could make the reunion worth going to:1. Veritas: Make a solemn pledge right now not to lie to ourselves or to anyone else. We have changed...and much more than "a bit." And if you want to be brutally honest, take a gander at our yearbook photos and realize that most of us did not start off this half-century sprint with Hollywood looks...and with fifty years of wear and tear on the old chassis...the heartbreaks, the addictions, the accidents, the diseases, the rejections, the bankruptcies, the divorces, the senseless tragedies, the beatings, the brittle ravages of time...we must look even worse than we did in the heyday of our acne-plagued, clod-hopping, teen-spastic, dorky-haircutted, and absurdly-clothed youth. Why bother to lie? Do we really think a titanium girdle braced with Kevlar, a bulimic crash diet endured for three painful months of self-denial before the big event at a country club we could never afford to join, a toupee that looks like a deceased jet-black muskrat crazy-glued to the scalp...that these things will erase the extraordinary one-way deterioration of our corporeal integument? Wouldn't it be great if we could get together and talk about something truthful and significant, and not get mired into tasteless recitations of humiliating personal plumbing issues, superficialities of hair colorings and botox, the grotesque indignities of cellulite removal, the aches and pains of ailing joints and muscles, and the fragile exteriors we have maintained that will only have to contain our real spark of humanity for another decade or two? For way too many of us, high school and college were times of telling and hearing way too many lies, often unwittingly, for our level of self-awareness was in retrospect woefully deficient, leaving us ill-prepared for the hyper-competitive world we were about to be thrown into. Why can't we mellow in the twilight and seek truth in ourselves and in our fellow travelers on this long trail? Why can't we have a time in our lives, freed blissfully from the resurrected mock-outs and put-downs and back-biting and clique-savaging and other hyphenated varieties of venal degradation?I can't speak for any of you, but as my randomly firing mind projects reruns from my tens of thousands of personal YouTube-like vignettes from yesteryear, the few good moments I must have had, even if unintentional, when I did not act like a total buffoon are overwhelmed by a surging tide of recollections of embarrassments, foolish stumbles, stupid comments, faux pas, blown opportunities, retarded moves, pretentious comments, ill-advised decisions, and hopeless incidents of stupefying ignorance. And what is even more depressing to me and must be so obvious to you is that this litany of missteps continues to this day, for it was clearly not confined to our teen years, and even with this presumptuous, unedited, erupting stream of unconsciousness I am just adding further layers of seething dung to the miasma of guilt and regret.Wow! Did I write that depressing pile of festering horse shit? I am going to be lots of fun to talk to at the reunion, especially if I am sitting in between some preternaturally well-preserved Sophia Loren or Connie Stevens-types of ageless women. But not to worry, for they won't talk to the perennial losers anyway: instead, in my post-sebaceous paranoia, I imagine their frozen countenances to be basking in the glow of their hunked-out counterparts who will be chundering Cenegenic power shakes, the perennially youthful formaldehyde-preserved cool guys who snared the ginchy chicks and gilded goddesses so many moons ago. No one ever told me adolescence was a life sentence. But perhaps a transfusion of veritas into our bulging vanities will restart the heart before we reach the final period or exclamation point, or more likely, the question mark or obscure asterisk that terminally punctuates the end of our days. Why do you think they call it a life sentence.!?*2. Charity: Okay, so each of us may pledge to tell the truth, the unholy truth, and nothing but the truth at the reunion. Now we run up against the blunt reality of our existence on this planet: Many of us, like Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men", can't handle the truth. But deep down, shorn of our golden locks, we all know we have morphed into the seven dwarfs: Dumpy, Lumpy, Frumpy, Rumpy, Stumpy, Humpy, and Grumpy...shorter, slower, dumber, balder, grayer, and weaker than we were in our prime. No one skips through the minefield unscathed. But there are many who attend a fiftieth reunion who are severe casualties of modern life in all its uncertainties. Do we barrage each other with an unyielding fusillade of armor-piercing truth artillery, in some vainglorious attempt to atone for the distortions that we fell prey to back when the world was younger... with us in either the starring roles or when lurking in the shadows while the rest of the class lived the myth?And many of us, given the inexorable tide of memory that sweeps over our dwindling days, do not wish to be the lethal carriers of unvarnished in-yo-face authenticity to our fellow men and women. We have walked too many miles and seen or lived too much pain to wish to be the instrument for the infliction of unfiltered, naked, unflinching honesty. For it is charity, not malice, that ultimately defines us as human beings. Not some sort of token, simpering, insincere gushing over the misfortunes of others, or some pantomime of sick schadenfreude of gladness that we have somehow cheated the afflictions that plague so many of our more rapidly disintegrating classmates...the ultimate conceit of the Dorian Grey wannabes among us is that the scythe of the Reaper will miss a few stalks of worthy wheat along the way. No, we can be realistic and charitable and compassionate without adding further to the harmful legacy of past lies.3. Tolerance: But a third factor of intolerance could rip the joyful heart out of any reunion in any year. It can kill more than a mockingbird. By coincidence we graduated from high school in between presidential elections, so we now meet twelve and a half terms later. Over that half century, the Democrats were in the White House for 22 years, the Republicans for 28. So it is an election year, and our reunion comes in October, just when the heat and distortions and bitterness of the campaign will be at its most virulent. In this polarized polity of 2012, the chasms will be deep and precipitous between the genders, between siblings, between the generations, the social classes, the believers versus non-believers, the ideologies, the ocean coasts versus the heartland, the races, the Europeans versus Latinos, the old money versus the immigrants, and along so many other fault lines that cleave asunder the core of America.And we will be hoofing it gingerly in a fancy ballroom in Mt. Lakes, one of the richest towns in America, surrounded by a generally wealthy, successful, white, family-oriented, elderly, suburban, and moderately religious group that was probably reared and shaped by conservative parents in the sixties. (Morris County voted 64%-36% for Nixon over Kennedy in 1960, even though JFK won the state by a whisker. Pres. Obama won the vote in Mt. Lakes by one-sixth of a percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, while the Democratic Party won the state decisively).So, hard as it is for a progressive to fathom, all or most of the key demographic factors that seem to determine or at least correlate with our political viewpoints dictate that the majority of the people attending the reunion of our class will be supporters of the Republican candidate, most likely Mitt Romney.If these divisions that separate us were merely polite differences of opinion on wonky issues of public policy, there would be no problem. But the nature of our political discourse in recent years in America has led to the wholesale demonization of the opposition and therefore very few moderates are left standing. Each voter is expected to be foaming at the mouth and screaming epithets, with little respect for the objective facts, from one end of the spectrum at the other, or else he or she is accused of lacking passion or commitment to the absolute truth that has been revealed only to you and to your blustering blowhards on your favorite cable network. Everyone else is an idiot. We are well past the dream of a tolerant, thoughtful, reasonable society where matters of exactly how progressive the tax rates should be can be discussed rationally by adults who know how to do research and recognize the truth when it is proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. No, it is now "he who shouts the loudest" or makes the most vicious and soundbite-worthy blasts at his opponent who carries the day. Not everyone is guilty of this reckless dumping of hot buckets of seething vitriol on the heads of those with whom they choose to disagree on that particular day, even if they happen to support a position they themselves held as sacred a few weeks or years before, but there are enough of these savage flamethrowers out there that the airwaves and stump speeches and cable and Internet spew forth an interminable eruption of searing lies, raw hatred and blind prejudice.So as I cautioned us all when I wrote an equally presumptuous and occasionally resented email to all classmates before our 45th reunion, this is the time for tolerance of the ideas of others. Prove that our teachers at Briarcliff and the High School did a good job on educating each one of us to grow up to be intelligent, accepting, openminded, citizens in a community with respect for everyone and a love for the greatest American and universal principles, not a bunch of bitter, ignorant, hateful hotheads cruisin to dish out a bruisin'. If the politics of corrosive bile is your sole purpose to go the reunion, I have a constructive suggestion: Save your gas money.I know this makes me sound like a despicable hypocrite. If we were truly tolerant, we should be able to go to the reunion and hurl biased invective from our ranting mouths and the unfortunate and undeserving targets of our pre-emptive verbal attacks will just have to turn the other cheek and let the bigotry sweep over them into oblivion. Welcome back to high school. And welcome back not to Mt. Lakes, but to Empty Lakes. So that's my fervent pitch for tolerance...or perhaps for forbearance. Recognize that many people do get cantankerous and crusty and mentally arthritic and perhaps a bit paranoid and set in their ways as they age inexorably toward seventy, and our classmates may well be among them. No effective inoculation exists. Life gets scary as we realize that there's only about 17.4 years left, on average for a male and a few years more for a female, to make up for the mistakes we made over the last 67 years. So what magnificent symmetry there is at the 50th reunion! We remember our senior year when we were about seventeen years young. And we look forward to the final countdown of the last seventeen. It's not quite a Benjamin Button situation where the aging process is reversed, but there will be ironic similarities. You can surely conjure up the unfortunate parallels between a nursing home and a room full of newborns.And each of us will fall apart in a different manner. It will require the greatest bravery we have ever imagined. Growing up is tough. Growing old is tougher. Getting out alive is impossibly the toughest trick of all. So let's be caring and tolerant of each other. Many our age greet each other with the expression, "How goes the battle?" I never really understood that when I was young and convinced was immortal. Indeed, there is still time for new friendships to blossom across the globe and across the street, time for travel if we are lucky and prosperous and healthy, time for unexpected opportunities to be grabbed, time for wonderful achievements within our families and dear circles of friends, time for the vicarious thrill of watching another classic World Series or miraculous Superbowl or seventh game in the NBA Finals or nail-biting Masters or gut-wrenching Wimbledon; the joy of learning new ideas, developing new skills, and trying our aging hands at arts and instruments we never had time for; the peace that comes from curling up with a great book and a loyal dog, the possibility that we will love and be loved again, or even that we may be truly loved for the very first time; the chance that we will come closer to self-fulfillment, that we will do something significant and lasting in service to humanity; the hope that we can share our wisdom with a child or a grandchild, and the humility to know that we have so much to learn from each of them as well; the gift of treasuring the past, savoring the present, and welcoming the future.
And all of this is not some frenetic resume padding obsession to tackle the most bodacious bucket list...there is little demand for break dancers at the funny farm beyond age sixty-nine or ninety-six...it is plea that we all have the chance to make these years the best they can be, even if they may not turn out to be the best of our lives.See you in September, as the Happenings sang in 1966, at the RR Country Club for our stab at the Yunger Games (or before, if you stop by my house in the woods in Maine this summer) and let's talk about life together and throw on some dance tunes and rock on, at least for a while longer, as the grateful survivors of a remarkable era, eager and optimistic about what just might happen tomorrow.Wishing us all eternal truth, uplifting charity, and admirable tolerance,Roy VT, Class of '62
About the author
Born in New York, 1945. Parents: Bee and Bill Van Til. Graduated with economics major from Swarthmore College, PA, 1966. Married Linda Bautz in Zermatt, Switzerland, 1972. Son, Justin, born 1973. Ph.D. in economics, Boston College, 1975. Daughter, Desi, born 1977. Taught economics at college level 1968-2006. Lived in Maine since 1985. Granddaughters Finley Mary VT and Arden Penelope Mewshaw born '07. and '09
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