Ever heard of the movie landmark series that has a number, indicating age, followed by "Up"?
It's a British idea for a documentary. The first film took a bunch of 7-year-olds and interviewed them about their lives at the time for a film called "7 Up." Then, seven years later, a second film was made called "14 Up." The series has gone through age 56 now, and it's fascinating.
Some people come and go from the series, but all travel through a variety of typical human changes as part of life's journeys. Luckily, there are frequent flashbacks to previous films in order to provide context. Go rent it, one after another, and thank me later.
Then again, there's an easier way to see the process in action. Just go to high school reunions. You'll miss the first couple of episodes, but the concept is the same.
We just had another one Saturday night, 40 years and counting, and it was a typically happy affair. The high school experience is an intense one, of course, but the typical issues of those times eventually fade away for most and high school graduating classes more or less turn into one big happy family. Well, that may not be true for those who never want to look back at their high school days for whatever reason (and I know they are out there), but usually they aren't around to infect the atmosphere.
(Note: In our case, one person did do exactly that one time in our many reunions - anyone who tried to start a conversation in a lone reunion appearance came away shaking his or her head. I took an informal vote Saturday night, and the vote was perfect - no one missed that person this time.)
I'm a good candidate to go back to these reunions. I've stayed in the area, and several high school friends are still pals today, so I know I'll have a good time in that sense. One year, I showed up when I was unemployed; this time I showed up with a book coming out within days. In that sense, this time was better. At least I had a ready answer when someone said, "What's new?" But in both cases, I came away with a smile on my face at the end of the evening.
Besides all that, there are a couple of reasons why I find this tradition to be worthwhile:
I find out how stories turned out. I tell stories for a living, mostly about people, and the twists and turns are often dramatic. People show up with new jobs, new spouses, and new stories about parents and children. The quiet kid in the corner turns out to be a huge success story, the person considered to be the most brilliant person in the group falls on hard times and disappears. There's no way to guess what happens, even now. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong.
I make new, or at least better, friends constantly. I sometimes joke about having the longest conversation of my life with people at reunions, but it's often true. Since I only went to a high school in suburban Buffalo for the final three grades, it's not as if I had 12 years to get to know everyone. Sometimes people didn't pop up in my classes, and I missed them. But we still had some common experiences through mutual friends, classes, etc.
Eight years ago when we had a group 50th birthday party for the class, I struck up conversations with two classmates who I never knew particularly well. You know how you exchange email addresses with such friends and say you'll keep in touch? We actually did it, and it's been very rewarding. The same thing happened to me in 2003 when I attended the reunion of the high school I would have attended had I stayed in Elmira. I got back in touch, and stayed in touch, with people I hadn't seen in 33 years.
By the way, I even signed a yearbook of someone I didn't know at all until Saturday night ... a mere 40 years and two months after publication. Haven't done that in a while - 40 years and two months, come to think of it.
I noted in one brief philosophical moment Saturday that the conversation at reunions had gradually gone from what we hope to be into what we are. The biographies are more or less written; now we're working on happy endings. Toward that end, I also noticed that the r-word, "retirement," started to pop up this time. My guess is that I'll be hearing that word a lot more in 10 years when the next installment of this personal documentary is written.
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