Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking Forward

Last week my old junior high school held its 40th anniversary celebration. (The school opened in 1968, a few years before I attended.) I didn’t plan to attend the event. It’s not that I never wax nostalgic, but I live my life looking forward, not backward. That’s not the only reason. My school years were, frankly, not that great. I have little desire to revive those memories.

I have also found that most event reunions (as opposed to family reunions) leave me feeling rather disappointed. The people that I care to see aren’t there. Socializing with people with whom I never shared any mutual interest just isn’t my idea of fun.

As luck would have it, however, my son needed to go to one of the junior high anniversary events to perform in the school band for half an hour. So I ended up at the school anyway. I thought it was kind of ironic that the band was blaring 60s music in the school library during a reception hosted by current student officers for former students and faculty.

I was recognized by some of the current faculty members, who know me, at least obliquely, as my son’s dad. My son is among the popular crowd at school. But few of today’s faculty know that I was once a student at the same school.

I recognized only a few of the former students attending the event, but I definitely recognized my former teachers and administrators that were in attendance. While they all looked older, the funny thing was that they didn’t look much older than my teenage memories of them. It dawned on me that many of these people must have been fairly young and not long out of college when I attended the school. I guess that to a 14-year-old, there isn’t much difference between 30 and 60. It’s all old. Just not as old as really old.

On the way home, my son asked me why I didn’t go and socialize with any of my old teachers. I explained that they probably wouldn’t be able to dredge up any memories of me. Unlike my popular son, I was among the great faceless, mediocre masses. I didn’t particularly stand out in any way.

It’s also a factor of sheer numbers. During my three years at the school, it was easy for me to know who all of the faculty members were. But over a 30-year career, each teacher and administrator deals with literally thousands of students. Only those students that have impressed deep memories (good or otherwise) on the educator will be remembered much.

And, of course, I have gone from being a young teen to being middle age, so I have changed dramatically. Even if any of the educators had any memories of me, my appearance would probably not give them much of a cue to access them. The educators, on the other hand, are only older versions of their younger adult selves, so they were quite recognizable.

I looked around the room. The educators in attendance had done their jobs. I didn’t have particular fond memories of any of them. None present were among the rare few that had a memorable positive impact on me.

I also looked around at my son and the other current students chasing around the hallways after the performance. I thought to myself that it was incredible that I had to have been that young and callow when I attended the school. We thought we were so mature back then.

I considered the three groups that were present: current students, middle age former students and current faculty, and retired former faculty. I thought to myself that this was a good representation of the chain of life. The 12-14-year-olds will one day be in my present shoes, as I will someday be in the shoes of the retirees.

When that day comes, I don’t know if I will have any greater affinity for reunions than I do today. I hope I’m still living my life looking forward.

1 comment:

Bradley Ross said...

You post brought a ward member to my mind. He is in his 90's. He used to be the postmaster of my town when it was much smaller and he knows everyone over a certain age. Furthermore, he can tell you everyone they are related to--usually including himself.

We were at a nursing home. One of the residents was having a birthday and he looked over at him and then nudged me. "Hey, I went to his wedding reception over in Benjamin." His face lit up with the recollection. He remembers so much about the past. I'm a bit jealous really, since I'm quite sure my brain hasn't captured nearly as much about my "present" as his did while he was my age.

I suppose that by a certain point in your life, you'll have a lot more behind you than ahead of you. Maybe by then, you won't mind looking backward so much.