Reunited And It Feels So Good (Part One)

{Note – I started writing this last week, in advance of my high school reunion which took place this past weekend in Dearborn, Michigan. As luck would have it, I didn’t get around to finishing and posting it before the big event arrived. More to come . . .}

Reunions – why the hell do we do them?

Almost exactly 5 years ago, I was getting ready to fly back to Michigan for a high school reunion – one ending in a zero. At the time, I was doing some consulting work for a company down in Provo.

You’d have to understand the somewhat unique nature of companies based in Utah County to fully appreciate the response I got when I told one of the senior guys at the company that I was heading back to Michigan for a high school reunion. “Not sure there is anyone I’d want to see at my high school reunion. I see everyone from high school that I’d want to see here in the office every day.”

That comment has stuck with me these past 5 years and I thought about it again as I was making plans to head back to Michigan for another high school reunion – this one ending in a five. Why the hell does it makes sense to spend $500 on a plane ticket (plus hotel, plus rental car, etc.) and fly 3 ½ hours across the country to spend a few hours with a bunch of people that I haven’t seen (other than previous trips at 5 year intervals) in three decades?

I haven’t always been great at attending reunions. My 5-year reunion, I was living in Japan, so I missed that one. For the 10-year, I think I was traveling for work. For the 15-year reunion, I was living in England, so I missed that one too. By the time I finally made it to a high school reunion, it had been 20 years since I had finished high school. And other than the first two summers after I left for college, and a couple months after I graduated from college before I had enough money saved up to move to Japan, I probably hadn’t spend more than two weeks total in the state where I grew up.

It’s not like I had a bad experience growing up. I didn’t leave for college with the mindset of “Goodbye Michigan – nice knowing ya!” I think of my childhood growing up in Michigan as pretty great – and typical for the 1970’s and early 1980’s. It was more just a case of getting busy doing other things, and not really making the occasional high school reunion a priority.

That changed about 7 years ago, in a different context.

My senior year playing football at Penn, I was fortunate to be part of something really special – an undefeated championship team. And every 5 years, on the 1’s and 6’s, the team reunites at the Homecoming game to celebrate that glorious year with our Band of Brothers.

My attendance at these reunions was a little bit better than my attendance at high school reunions, but not much. In 2011, I missed the 25 year reunion. At the time, there was no direct flight from Salt Lake to Philadelphia, so getting there just felt like it was going to be too hard – a connecting flight to Philadelphia or a direct flight to Newark and then an Amtrak down to 30th St. Station. Either way, it seemed like a lot of work for a very brief visit.

Not too long afterwards, I was exchanging messages with a teammate of mine, James, and I found out that a guy that had played with us as freshman (but not on the ’86 team) had died of cancer. It’s not important to the story, but his death had happened earlier in the Fall, before the reunion. But I was nonetheless saddened to hear about Chris’ untimely death and when I told James how sorry I was to hear about it, his response hit me square between the eyes:

“Yeah Kenny, you know we’re not getting any younger. So if any of the shit we did together matters to you, if it’s important to you, then make it a fucking priority and get your ass out here next time.”

While no doubt true, that still begs the question – why does the 3 years that I spent in high school (until I was a senior in high school, our high school was only 3 years) matter enough to me that I should make the effort to go back for a high school reunion?

This was a thought that I continued to ponder as I boarded a flight for Detroit last Friday.

[to be continued . . . .]