I was in Cleveland, Ohio, this past weekend for the U.S Masters Swimming National Championships. It’s a major competition and a bit of a reunion with a group of men and women from all over the country that I see once every five years or so.
I’ve attended my 40th and 50th high school reunions, and I’ve been to reunions with former TV news and sports colleagues, former college teammates, fellow members of our Mt. Kilimanjaro Survivor Summit team, and, of course, plenty of one-on-one reunions with childhood friends, siblings, cousins, co-workers and more.
Every reunion is different, depending upon how long it’s been since we were together and the nature of our relationship. At times, it can be tough putting your current self out there and reconnecting with those who knew your former self. And, let’s be honest, there are many moments in years past that we’re better off not revisiting.
The interesting thing about reunions is that we’re now removed from many of the circumstances that once influenced, restricted, or defined those previous relationships: the impact of childhood family dynamics, the social pressures of adolescence, the stress of corporate or professional goals, the conflict of competing for a spot on a team or the attention of a potential love interest, and the countless unknown personal challenges that inform so much of who we are or once were. Without those circumstances, and with the perspective of time, we’re better able to understand why we and others behaved and interacted like we did.
I now have a better understanding of the class bullies I hated and the brilliant students whom I admired but with whom I rarely, if ever, interacted. And I find myself drawn to those that I barely noticed and, I’m certain, barely noticed me: the shy, quiet kids, co-workers or teammates who were always worthy of friendship but were outside our silly social circles.
Reunions are billed as an opportunity to reconnect. I think their greatest appeal is their opportunity to connect. To connect, maybe for the first time, in a way that is no longer informed by the social, professional, or personal constructs that defined each relationship in the past.
I also think reunions are nothing more than what you make them. We can choose to ignore them altogether and let the experiences and relationships created in the past be preserved as they were or as we perceived them to be. We can allow them to become painful reminders that we’re aging or wonderful celebrations that we’re still here.
We can have a couple of drinks and share a few laughs and reminisce about the shared experiences that once defined our relationship. Or we can discover in others that which we missed in the past or didn’t exist in the past. We can reconcile, heal, and grow. We can find new meaning in old events and create exciting opportunities for new experiences.
We can more fully understand that we are all and always have been dealing with the circumstances of our lives and doing the best we can at any moment. We can learn, once again, one of life’s most important lessons: We’re all in this together and we’re all worthy of respect, compassion and friendship.
I’ve become a fan of reunions of all kinds. How about you? What have been your reunion experiences?