In my pocket is nestled a metaphorical pocket watch and chain. In my entire life, I have removed it from my pocket but four times, every 10 years beginning in 1985. Once each decade since then, I take the watch out of my pocket and behold it as I would gaze into the mystic mirror of eternity. It is a sobering timepiece, indeed.
Perhaps that is why I take it out only once every 10 years.
Put another way, I have attended, each, my 10th, 20th, 30th and (am just returned from) my 40th high school reunion.
Ten years after the members of Peoria High School's class of '75 surrender the innocence of adolescence and boldly sojourn into the world of adulthood, vocation, responsibility and perhaps matedness and parenthood, we gather. We are 28 years old. My hair is still ash blonde. I don't wear glasses.
There is palpable posing and posturing. Me, too, I'm sure. A lot of conversation about college degrees earned and businesses started. (A 28-year-old male has trouble saying "my business" without sounding pretentious.) A handful of women who quite thoroughly enjoyed being "really hot" in high school move through the room making sure we notice they are still really hot. Guys remembered as funny make sure we know they are still funny. The nerds are, 10 years later, self-accepting, confident nerds with investments and retirement plans. Everyone is dressed to the nines, by the way. The reunion is held in a fancyish hotel meeting room.
The noble pocket watch keeps ticking. Twenty years, now, into our Officially Adult lives, we gather. We are 38 years old. My hair is, oddly, darker. If you look close, you will see my hair has several rogue strands of Santa Claus white. I regret to tell you, I'm sporting a mullet. I don't wear glasses. I am a husband. I am the father of two sons, ages 4 and 2.
My abiding memory of my 20th reunion is thinking the light has gone out in a lot of eyes (Sing with me: "Is that all there is? Then let's keep dancing.") People seem, well, not so alive. The posing and posturing have been replaced by stories of life and life is — mundane, ordinary, in cycles joyful but regularly difficult and sometimes hard as hell. There are lots and lots of photos of progeny. No, I mean actual, hard copy photos removed from wallets and purses. Only a few of us have cellphones, and they are huge, clunky things that are managed more like a prosthesis than like a convenient technology. Actually, we're all a little dull. But Maggie, Robert and Sylvia (not their real names) each, separately, tell me they are gay. I tell them each, separately, that we all already knew.
Tick ... tick ... tick ...
Thirty years, now, since we wore those ridiculous caps and gowns. We are 48 years old. I wear glasses to read. I dye my hair ash blonde. Because my hair has gone completely white. And I'm in a band. And college students don't listen to old singer-songwriters unless those old singer-songwriters got famous when they were not yet old. Two bandmates and I do a 40-minute acoustic set at the reunion. All originals, except for a couple of Beatles covers we love doing together. Vocal harmony makes my blood boil.
I have a third son, now. Age 2. In fact, at this reunion, I win '75 graduate with youngest child.
The light is back on in the eyes of my classmates. It looks and feels like peace. Acceptance of life as life is. The dawning of wisdom. There is something like a contentedness in the eyes that meet mine.
And now, 40 years after we, the frightened little wannabe grown-ups, left the campus for the last time, we meet. My hair has gone white. I can't see or drive without glasses. I weigh 207 pounds and I go to bed around 8:45 every night.
The energy here is beyond peace, acceptance and contentment. Now it's joy and gratitude ... and grandchildren.
As we mill and bump, I turn and right there in front of me is David (again, name disguised). My high school sweetheart dumped me and fell in with David. I was hurt and angry. I'm embarrassed to say I falsely accused him of vandalizing my parents' house with a garden hose pushed through the mail slot.
I haven't seen this man for 40 years.
And — boom— he chats me up, introduces his wife, hugs me like there is no tomorrow.
Ah, the liberation of middle age. Ego slowly erodes. It just isn't very interesting.
I return home, thinking we're all right on schedule. Maybe everyone is right on schedule, all the time, even when it feels like you're not.
— Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Mondays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.