Let me tell you about a “60” that is so special that is nearly impossible for me to comprehend, or wrap my head around as I sometimes write. It is something that I have read about now and then but never experienced. It is an event associated with those who are well into seniorhood. It is an event that most who read this musing never have experienced but, with a bit of good luck, will. Don’t worry about missing it. If you live long enough, it will be right there before you.
I speak of attending my 60th high school class reunion. Note that I didn’t say 60th birthday, but 60th high school reunion! Like a distant thunderstorm that grumbles to let you know it is there, so does the occasional reunion information tells me it is close by. It will be held in July 2014 – 60 years removed from graduation. Why then, you might ask, are you writing about it now, when it is still months away. Knowing how quickly the past 59 years slipped by, I know the reunion celebration will happen in the blink of an eye.
As a 1954 high school graduate I suspect most 1954 graduates feel a bit like me – dumbfounded that I’ve reached this point in my life so quickly. I think the problem is that our bodies listen to the tick of the clock and all too soon start to transform from wrinkle free faces and no sag bodies into what we see every day in our mirrors and what others see dawdling along a grocery store aisle. Meanwhile our minds seem to have taken a long leisurely bath in the fountain of youth when we were 40 and never grew older.
Sixty years, 60 years, 60 years. I keep repeating it thinking sooner or later I will accept it or at least come to terms with it. You see, for all us “54ers” during those 60 years there were happy days and sometimes miserable weeks. There were fun times and boring times. There was joy and sorrow, the serious and the whimsical, the comforting and the unsettling, successes and failures. During those 60 years we started a vocation or started college, sometimes worked for businesses large and small and made our contributions to society and our country. In some cases those contributions, and sadly casualties, were made in Korea and Viet Nam.
There have been marriages and divorces, children to raise and grandchildren to enjoy. Speaking of marriages, while there may not have been quite as many 50 golden anniversaries for us as for our parents, there are a lot more in my generation than there will be in the future. Like all of the 7 decades plus classmates, I remember my older relatives dying but the two deaths that knocked me to my knees were the death of my Dad, the cornerstone of my life, and then my Mom, who always was in my corner. The deaths of our parents are life shattering experiences, regardless of our age.
It seems that the last 60 years was one frantic, fast-forward dream conjured up by our imaginations. But sadly they weren’t dreams, and those times will not come our way again. I guess we thought that things would go on forever getting better every day. Back then I never thought about returning to my home town in 60 years for a class reunion. Back then today wasn’t even on my radar screen.
So now my classmates are strewn about by the winds of life. Some stayed in contact with others but a few seem to have dropped off the edge of the world, never to be heard of again. Some died only to leave a vacant spot they should have filled at the forthcoming class reunion. With every 60th school reunion there is hope that all who are physically able will return to celebrate a brief time of renewed friendships, a brief time of laughs and tears, a brief time of once again being those 17, 18 and 19 year olds of yore.
Finally, while writing this my thoughts returned to a musing I wrote a few years back about a graduation speech I never gave. It is a speech I wish I could have given to that bright-eyed, young John in 1954. I wrote:
What you learn as you get older is that you may think you know where you are going, but life has a funny way of creating detours and side trips. The destination you enter in your life’s GPS navigation system is not necessarily where the directions will take you. I promise you that 40, 50 or 60 years from now you will look back and confess that you had no idea that you would end up where you then are.
But there are a few things you can know about your future. Let me tell you what they are. You should know you will experience success and failure. You will soar, will love, and will plunge into heartbreak. You will see life created and see life end. You will see humanity discover marvels that will benefit all mankind and yet, at the same time, it will find ways to degrade peoples’ very existence. There will be glorious highs and seemingly bottomless lows. Life is full of cycles, and as sure as you can get through one, know that you can get through the next.
And as you are enjoying that journey, be sure to collect a few souvenirs. I would suggest that some good friends and great memories will do. Because when you approach the end of your journey, you will have learned that they are the most important things anyone can collect along life’s way.
I will not be here when you come to the end of your journey but, trust me, I will know if you remembered and heeded my advice. I wish you well and safe journey.
You see, it matters not whether it is 60, 50, or 40 years since that day of presumed liberation, the opinions are the same for all who graduated like us in 1954 – life is much too much hurried and too much brief.
Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West-by God-Virginia: Class 1954.