I never miss a reunion. It could be college, high school, graduate school, my mother’s cousins and their children or my mother-in-law’s siblings and offspring. There’s something irresistible about having all of these people together in one place at the same time with the sole intent of reconnecting with each other.
The most recent reunion I attended was for all of the living alumni of the men’s a cappella singing group from my college years. We get together every three years in Hanover, New Hampshire just as the long winter is starting to turn to spring. In northern New England, this equates to the weekend containing the first Saturday in May. One of the wide-eyed freshman in the current group is recruited to run the reunion under the tutelage of a wizened senior, who himself was the freshman in charge three years ago.
This a cappella group was the center of my universe during those four years of college. I had times that were good, bad, scary, exhilarating, intoxicating and everything in between.
During my four years of college, I shared time in this singing group with thirty five other men. Some of them only shared the group with me for one quarter. One of them joined the group when I did, in the fall of our freshman year, and we went across the finish line together four years later when we graduated.
At our recent reunion, twenty of those thirty five people returned to Hanover for the weekend. As a cohort, we constituted over a third of the total attendees. What caused my contemporaries to show so strongly, I wondered?
A few of them told me that the singing group was their true fraternity in college. They skip the reunions of their college class but not the reunions of this singing group. Others live close enough to be able to attend for a day or two and see a select group of old friends.
At the end of the dinner on our last night together, we all stood in a large circle on the porch of the college skiway and sang the group’s signature song with our arms around each other. The song is Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and it is arranged in a way that is moving and resonant. Ever since it was added to the group’s repertoire in 1968, it is the song that the group has used to welcome its new recruits during a 3 a.m. visit to the new recruit’s dorm room. (“There’s a place for you, somewhere a place for you.”)
As we prepared to sing this song on the last night, I blurted out “hey, you young guys: take a good look at us. This is what you will look like in thirty five years!” That’s when it hit me: I have more yesterdays than tomorrows, as Bill Clinton famously said on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.
So, why keep coming back to an event that shows you in stark terms just how you are aging? Do you do it to slow down the hands of time? You do feel younger when you go back and recreate your past, or at least try to recreate it. But maybe you’d be better off to avoid the reunion and ignore the signs of aging.
I go back time after time because memories of shared experiences are one of the most precious things in life. With luck, we will know the people with whom we shared the stage in college for sixty or seventy years. That is longer than most of us will know our parents, spouses or children. Only our siblings will know us longer than these friends. That’s why we call it a brotherhood.