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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Reunited, and it Feels So...?

This past weekend, Mike and I attended my 50th high school reunion back in north-central Illinois. My inner child cannot comprehend that I graduated from Streator High five DECADES ago already, but the grownup whose body I run around in truly looked forward to the chance to reconnect with old friends.

Center block is my freshman photo, 1967. Exhibit A for my lifelong inferiority complex! :)

But here’s the thing.

Entering a venue filled with former classmates you haven’t seen since you were 18 can be its own brand of weird. You may have had nothing in common with most of them back then except the banality of the bus, homeroom shenanigans, or the adolescent tortures of PE.

What’s different now? Why stand around sipping wine and glancing surreptitiously at nametags when you could be home with a good book or a better buddy who knows you soul-deep as you are now?

The blessed truth is that reunions are just that: Re-uniting with people you shared life with back in the day. You circle back to where you started not to size each other up or put each other down, but simply to say, “You’re here, too? I am really glad to see you.”

Reunions mean no longer caring whether you looked better then or now. They’re not about swapping achievements like trading cards or winning the class trivia contest as farthest-traveled or longest-wed. It doesn’t matter a cat’s whisker whether you’ve published a book since the last gathering or if your youngest kid is still in jail.

What matters is showing up. Caring enough to come. Entering the room not with “Here I am” but “There you are!”

Reunions are about reconveying your present self into your distant past.

They’re about returning to a place and a people for whom you may have no affinity except that you once inhabited a particular time and space together.

Reunions are about renewing acquaintance, auld and new.

Reunions are about the other, not about you.

In an op-ed piece years ago for the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page wrote thoughtfully about why class reunions matter.

“I used to wonder why high school reunions seem to mean so much more to people than other reunions. High school is where we begin to shape the adults we are about to become for the rest of our lives. It is a monstrous task confronted by complete amateurs. I would not face it again if you paid me in Powerball winnings.”

As I walked through the halls of my old high school this past Saturday admiring the many renovations, I wondered: Would I do it again if I could go back with the peace I have now minus the baggage I carried back then?

Some sage once wrote: “If youth only knew – if age only could.”

Around tapas under a tent Saturday night, conversations had nothing to do with location or vocation. Instead there were the furrowed brows of now-who-were-you-back-then—followed by the light of mutual recognition. As we mingled on the dance floor, the most common refrain was, “Whatever happened to…?”, and “Has anyone heard from…?”

After [50] years,” wrote the Tribune columnist, “you’re happy merely to see who’s still alive and able to show up.”

Now the Class of ’71 contains many grandparents – our children have children of their own. But in each older face I saw the young women and men we were then – teenagers trying to find our future place in the world.

And as Mike and I left town the next morning I felt a bit bereaved. My classmates and I share collective memories no one else on the planet owns. Good, bad, or ugly – they are our stories and they’ve shaped us into the adults we’ve become.

The late Chicago advice columnist Ann Landers once wrote, “At 20 we worry about what everyone thinks of us. At 40 we don’t care what they think of us. And at 60 we realize that they weren’t thinking of us at all.”

But today I am thinking of the people who stood grinning and begowned with me on that football field in June of 1971. The ones who wrote in each other’s yearbooks, “Never forget…” and “Always remember…”

I did and I haven’t, but one thing I know for sure: I am out of high school, but high school will never truly be out of me. Those experiences – the painful and the proud – are buried deep within, like small rings in an old-growth tree. Who would I be without them? I am grateful.

For one weekend the Class of ’71 was reunited, and it felt so…good.


How about you? Other than health concerns or distance, what keeps you from attending reunions?

Or if you’ve been to one recently, what was the highlight of your time there?

In the rooftop garden at Boston Children's Hospital where Janie was able to be outdoors for the very first time.

A huge PRAISE to share with you today: The severe chyle leak baby Jane had (rare complication after cardiac surgery) seems to have resolved! The medical team won’t be pinned down to discharge planning just yet, but for the first time since Janie’s birth on 8/12, our daughter-in-law is hearing the phrase “When you go home” on occasion. Jane’s birth against-all-odds was a miracle in itself. Grateful for your faithful intercession!

Maggie's first book This Life We Share is available in ebook, audiobook or hardcover HERE.


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